the confidence gap


A new “gap” has entered the conversation regarding women in the workplace. Sheryl Sandberg tackled the ambition gap in her book Lean In. The debate continues around the wage gap and how pay inequality impacts working women. And now, the confidence gap has become the new “it” term in the media.

womenomics-shipman-and-kay-primary-photo  [caption id="attachment_1687" align="alignleft" width="358"] Journalists Katty Kay and Claire Shipman co-authored a new book, The Confidence Code[/caption]

It’s based on a new book by journalists Katty Kay and Claire Shipman titled The Confidence Code,  which takes a closer look at why men are getting promoted faster, getting paid more and dominating positions of power at most companies today. According to Kay and Shipman, one of the main factors hindering women in the workplace is their own self-doubt. Randstad’s Engagement Study of 2,033 employees aligns with The Confidence Gap.  When asked what leadership qualities are most associated with women, both male and female respondents ranked self-confidence as one of the lowest out of nine qualities to choose from, with “listening skills” ranking highest. However, respondents also ranked “having more women in leadership positions” as one of the most beneficial ways of helping women advance to leadership levels in their respective companies, second behind pay equality. In a recent article in The Atlantic, authors Kay and Shipman wrote about dozens of conversations they’ve had with successful women across all industries as part of their book’s research. One common trait these women shared was a tendency to downplay or question their own accomplishments. “Why did the successful investment banker mention to us that she didn’t really deserve the big promotion she’d just got?” the authors wrote. “What did it mean when the engineer who’d been a pioneer in her industry for decades told us offhandedly that she wasn’t sure she was really the best choice to run her firm’s new big project?” Personally, I have witnessed times when a woman would not apply for a position because she felt she did not meet all of the qualifications, but men would apply even if they only met a few of the qualifications. For years, this has been a topic of conversation among successful professional women in my networking groups and we all admit to having these feelings of “inadequacy” at times in our own careers. This underlying lack of confidence is influencing where women are represented in the workforce. One Yale professor noted that female students are “opting out” of competitive fields, such as investment banking, in favor of milder careers, such as marketing and human resources.

How Confident Are You? Take The Confidence Quiz!
Pay, Promotions, Performance Low confidence impacts women in all areas of the workplace, including pay, promotions and performance. Kay and Shipman highlight several research studies that illustrate these trends, including:
  • A Carnegie Mellon University professor found that in studies of business-school students, men initiate pay negotiations four times as often as women do, and that when women do negotiate, they ask for 30 percent less money than men do.
  • A review of personnel records found that women working at Hewlett-Packard applied for a promotion only when they believed they met 100 percent of the qualifications listed for the job. However, men were happy to apply when they thought they could meet 60 percent of the job requirements. “Underqualified and underprepared men don’t think twice about leaning in,” according to the article. “Women feel confident only when they are perfect. Or practically perfect.”
  • A social psychologist at the University of California at Santa Barbara found that men consistently overestimated their abilities and subsequent performance, and that the women routinely underestimated both. Their actual performances, however, did not differ in quality.
Confidence or Competence?
“It’s not enough to keep one’s head down and plug away, checking items off a list. Having talent isn’t merely about being competent; confidence is a part of that talent. You have to have it to excel.” -Excerpt from The Atlantic article "The Confidence Gap"
Kay and Shipman shared an interesting anecdote that showed the confidence gap at play in the workplace.  They recounted two employees in their mid-20s, one male and the other female. The man was newly hired and constantly stopping by his supervisor’s office to make pitches, discuss business strategies and give his unsolicited opinion. The female, meanwhile, had been working at the company for years. She was hardworking, prepared and quiet. Although the man oftentimes had his ideas shot down, he would take it in stride. The female, in contrast, struggled with negative feedback, sometimes breaking down in tears and retreating to her office. In this scenario, Kay and Shipman predicted, the male’s star would rise. “It was only a matter of time before one of his many ideas would strike the right note, and he’d be off and running,” according to the article, “while [the female] was left behind, enjoying the respect of her colleagues but not a higher salary, more responsibilities, or a more important title.” And so goes the confidence gap. Five Factors Behind The Confidence Gap So what’s the solution? As women struggle to reach positions of power in the workplace, they also have to overcome a tricky obstacle: their own fears and doubts. ABC News recently discussed the confidence gap in a segment, outlining five factors that hinder women’s rise to the top:
  • Overthinking – Women tend to ruminate more than men, but thinking too much can prevent action.
  • Fear of failure –Another term entering our workplace lexicon is to “fail fast.” But oftentimes, women are afraid to take risks and learn from mistakes
  • Harboring Criticism – Women waste time focused on “that one thing that they did wrong” and it’s traced all the way back to the classroom. A Stanford psychology professor studied male and female students and found that: “Boys’ mistakes are attributed to a lack of effort while girls come to see mistakes as a reflection of their deeper qualities.”
  • Stuck in the Comfort Zone – Women tend to strive for perfection, which can in turn lead to a plateau, preventing women from stepping into new territory and reaching for that next rung on the career ladder.
  • Upspeak – This term describes a habit among women of raising their tone at the end of a sentence in “a way that suggests a question rather than a declaration,” according to the ABC article. “Lose the questioning tone, and boost your confidence.”
By recognizing the common traps that often ensnare females, women workers can focus on closing the confidence gap. We can start by speaking up, sharing our ideas and risking failure. We must also be committed to mentoring the next generation of professional women so they can have a stronger sense of confidence in the workplace and be less hesitant to “lean in” to future opportunities. As we work toward gender-balanced leadership in the workplace, we must first believe that we are qualified and worthy enough to be given a seat at the table. To read part two of The Confidence Gap, click here.
By: Michelle Prince / On: November 18, 2014 /