Confidence Is the Ultimate Power Move for Women

By Ann Elliott

It is generally accepted that men have more confidence than women. Women are advised to develop more self-confidence to succeed. According to recent research, “While self-confidence is gender-neutral, the consequences of appearing self-confident are not.” In other words, it’s a myth that women lack self-confidence. Women are as confident as their male counter parts about their ability to take a leadership role.  

Society gives women mixed messages about how to succeed by being confident. Some conflicting messages include but are not limited to the following: be ambitious yet unthreatening, be assertive yet likeable, be a leader yet don’t take charge. The same behavior touted as admirable for men yet labeled as negative for women creates a double bind. Darn if you do, darn if you don’t. 

I recall seeing a cartoon of the king and the queen on their thrones debriefing their day. I do not know the magazine where this appeared. The queen bemoaned the fact that people criticized her for the exact same behavior as the king. “Why when I say, ‘off with their heads’ I’m considered a bitch?” 

It is Costly to Undervalue the Contribution of Women in the Workplace 

We leave money on the table when talented women are reluctant to act. Thwarting women in taking leadership roles is worse. Research shows that having women in leadership positions of companies helps these companies prosper. It defies logic to hold back half of your resources.  

Longstanding Systems Do Not Create a Level Playing Field 

Practices of the workplace and the familiar systems in the workplace do not create a level playing field for a gender diverse environment. These norms have been in place for a long time. According to the research by Laura Guillen, men and women are not treated equally based on competence. 

How confident women feel is different from how competent they appear to others. Women have an added burden to appear caring and prosocial when demonstrating leadership. Women are expected to change to manage the gender work environment. For men, it’s business as usual. 

Sheryl Sandberg advised women to “lean in” in her 2013 book, “The Confidence Code: The Science and Art of Self Assurance, What Women Should Know.”  The advice Sheryl put forward in her book received backlash from women who were denied a place at the table. I recall being in a group of women discussing this advice. The overwhelming sentiment was that “would be ill advised in my company.” 

Develop the Skills to Navigate the Environment 

In her groundbreaking work, Mindset, Carol Dwek, shows the power of our most basic beliefs. Whether conscious or subconscious, they strongly “affect what we want and whether we succeed in getting it.” Much of what we think we understand of our personality comes from our “mindset.” This both propels us and prevents us from fulfilling our potential. 

If you have a fixed mindset, you have a deep-seated belief that your personality and intelligence are fixed traits. On the other hand, a growth mindset holds the belief that you can develop these traits. This equips you to see the circumstances with brutal honesty while holding the conviction that you can prevail.  

When failure is viewed as a fixed mindset, you correlate that with your identity. Your reasoning is that if I fail, I am a failure. It is easy to understand how someone with a fixed mindset refuses to take risks because they fear being a failure. The prospect of failing paralyzes them. Contrary to women, men who fail view it as information.  

Find the Gift in Failure and Challenges 

When something doesn’t work out like you wanted or planned, ask yourself what could be the gift or opportunity in this situation? In Carol Dwek’s work this viewpoint would be a growth mindset. 

  • Perseverance in the face of challenges takes courage. This builds confidence little by little as you take one small step and then another. 
  • Resilience keeps you going in the face of setbacks. You can bounce back more quickly and stronger. 
  • Difficulty brings your master teacher. Did you discover that you need to have more knowledge in a particular area? Did you learn to recognize passive aggressive behavior? 
  • Failure often inspires you to see new possibilities. Were you inspired to take on greater endeavors? 
  • Did you learn from failure that your strengths and qualities have significant power? Where can you use them in other ways that you had not considered?  

An Example….. 

I am familiar with an organization that keeps track of the number of calls, appointments, and sales that their sales team generates. The team leader places great emphasis on the number of face-to-face appointments. The outcome of this approach is the new, uninitiated salespeople would drive great distances for a face-to-face appointment with someone unqualified to sign a contract. For one person, the gift in this failure was to recognize she needed more effective training in sales to close a deal. Her income increased significantly when she researched to find qualified leads, identified the decision maker, and called on her ideal client. 

In Conclusion 

While the traditional workspace has made progress to create a gender diverse environment. The playing field is not level. 

As Naomi Schoenbaum, a professor at GW Law, suggests two alternative approaches:  

First, instead of encouraging women to lean in, we can encourage men to lean out—to promote less, negotiate less, and so forth.  

Second, we could encourage employers to ensure that they are relying on measures of employee performance other than self-promotion. 

Confidence is an inside job. Real confidence emanates from knowing your unique strengths and honoring them. Trying to fit what others say is appropriate for you drains your creativity. You contribute your best from a place of confidence. Confidence is the ultimate power move for women.  

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Ann Elliott

Ann Elliott, founder of The Berkana Company, excels at leadership strategy

An expert at helping business leaders enjoy more profits and improved productivity with less stress, she blends fun and excitement with executive coaching and training to yield results for her clients.

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