August 21, 2019

Research supports the fact that there is a real confidence gap between women and men but not any difference in our ability. Cornell University found in a study that we underestimate our abilities and performance while men overestimate both. They also found that the actual performance of both genders did not differ in quality or quantity.

    “What is important here is that to succeed, confidence matters as much as competence.”

According to Jack Zenger, “men are not exempt from doubting themselves—but they don’t let their doubts stop them as often as we women do.” How does this play out in the workplace? Hewlett Packard found in an internal report that men apply for a job or promotion when they meet only 60% of the qualifications, but we apply only if we meet 100% of them.

    “If we are not even on the slate, there is little chance of landing the promotion.”

Pauline Claunce and Suzanne Imes described this female confidence challenge as the “imposter syndrome”. They said we frequently express that we don’t feel we deserve our job and are “imposters” whose fraud could be discovered at any moment. What causes us to feel this way more than men? Maternal instincts may contribute to our greater emotional tug between home and work lives.

    “There are also cultural and institutional barriers to our success.”

It’s true, we think we have to be superheroes to even try. Yet in many ways we accomplish the near impossible every day. In the US, women now earn more college and graduate degrees than men. We make up half the workforce and are closing the gap in middle management. Companies employing women in large numbers outperform their competitors on every measure of profitability. Based upon “The Confidence Gap” in the Atlantic magazine:

    “Our competence has never been more obvious.”

Tania Katan made a poetic leap while brainstorming a big idea for a women in technology conference. She walked by the women’s bathroom and saw a familiar symbol but imagined something different. Instead of a dress, she saw a woman from behind in a cape and penned it on paper. Her image (see below) was a huge success not only at the conference but around the world as women embraced the idea of being a superhero.
Image from Tania Katan’s TEDxNCSSM video

    “You see, the symbol was never a woman in a dress.”

We have worn the superhero cape ever since public restrooms for women were introduced. All we have to do is truly believe in our capabilities. How do we do that? First we need to be realistic and understand that building confidence is a process that can’t be accomplished overnight.

Tania offers four creative ways to silence our fear and insecurity and unleash our superpowers:

#1. Stop underselling ourselves at work. Admit that we are worth it, are uniquely qualified for this opportunity and we are awesome. Admit it again and again so that valuable opportunities present themselves.

#2. Make our own “I ROCK Files”. Like a private detective, create a file and gather evidence that proves the unique value you bring to work. Maybe a glowing performance review or an email from our boss that praises us for a “job well done!” Whenever we need a reminder that we rock, get out our file and read through our accomplishments.

#3. Assemble our own diverse board of directors. Meet regularly to share our experience, fears, ideas, aspirations and accomplishments. Challenge and support each other. Discover what we are capable of doing when we combine our powers.

#4. Ask for a raise in haiku. She says even if it doesn’t get us a raise, it will get us noticed and maybe pave the way for a future raise. A haiku is a Japanese poem with five syllables for the first line, seven for the second, and five for the third line. Use it to write a poem to our boss that celebrates the beauty of what we bring to the workplace. Here’s Tania’s example:

    “I’ve done a great job

    She agreed with me, then said

    Yes to the request!”

While we still face external challenges to equality in the workplace, it’s up to us to work on our own internal barriers. Data proves that we are less confident than men and sometimes suffer more from imposter syndrome. It is our own lack of confidence that keeps us from even trying.  

    “Let’s put on that “imaginary” cape every day and keep building our confidence.”

About Author

Kay D. Wakeham MSODL, MBA, SPHR

What women lack in the workplace is not competence but confidence. This puts us at a disadvantage from an equality perspective. Here's why and what we can do to overcome our own internal barrier to success.


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