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The Confidence Gap for Women: What to Do About It

Confidence. People who have it are more sought after, more trusted, more promoted, more influential … and more of those people are men. How come? Men are more comfortable with self-promotion; women may express fear of backlash from appearing too assertive. Men tend to overestimate their abilities; women tend to underestimate. When compared with successful men, successful women are more often plagued with self-doubt about their performance.

It’s past time to close the confidence gap and level the playing field. What do others say you have a knack for or do well? What comes easily to you? Start by listing strengths and skills. For a more scientific assessment, check out excellent resources such as Strengthsfinder2.0 or Strengths Based Leadership which are available at any bookseller.

Start an ‘Acknowledgements and Accomplishments’ file. Each time you receive kudos or thanks for something well done, it goes in the file. But don't rely on others to pump you up. Looking for approval suggests insecurity and neediness. Make a point to self-acknowledge, in writing, whenever you work through a difficult challenge or complete a goal. In addition to boosting confidence, a record of how you addressed and overcame challenges will increase resilience and self-belief and prove useful in any future job interview.

Nothing builds confidence like taking action. Set a goal and break it into bite-sized pieces. This will allow the accumulation of many small wins, with each success building upon the last. Whatever it is, a stretch work assignment, a fitness program, or learning a new skill, taking action instills confidence and courage.

Take risks. Stretch beyond your comfort zone. Playing it safe and deferring keeps you stuck right where you are. One very bright but reticent young woman was told by her manager that she needed to contribute more in meetings. She tried out and garnered a role in community theatre and discovered that she could enjoy being more visible and vocal. She brought her new personal gravitas to the office where the transformation was soon noticed. She went from being viewed as steady but unremarkable to being considered high potential.

Use body language and voice to your advantage. Posture, eye contact, voice tone and inflection are barometers for how others perceive you. Leaning forward, using hand gestures to punctuate, and speaking firmly and clearly in a well-modulated tone all convey confidence.

Hone communication skills. The ability to make presentations convincingly and comfortably is a key contributor to influence. People are reluctant to follow the lead of someone who appears nervous or uncertain. To develop speaking skills and get practice and feedback in a supportive environment, check out Toastmasters. Got a pitch coming up? Seek out a mentor or hire a coach to polish your message and delivery.

Accept compliments graciously. A simple "Thank-you, I appreciate that," is the mark of a confident person. When a compliment is deflected or minimized with, "It's nothing," or "I was just doing my job," it signifies a belief that the praise is undeserved and calls into question the judgment of the one giving praise.

When challenges or setbacks occur, as they inevitably will, think of them as fieldwork that can lead you to new insights and strengths.

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