Closing the confidence gap for women

The Confidence Competence Duet

Confidence is as important as competence for career success. So say journalists Katy Kay and Claire Shipman, authors of The Confidence Gap, The Atlantic’s cover story, May 2014. When it comes to confidence, women are at a distinct and significant disadvantage. Here are but a few statistics the author’s site.

  • Self doubt about job performance was reported by ½ the female respondents and less that 1/3 of the male respondents
  • On average, male business graduates think they deserve $80,000 a year, whereas women think they deserve $64,000
  • At Hewlett Packard women applied for promotion only when they believed they met 100 percent of the job qualifications
    • Men applied when they thought they met 60 percent of the qualifications
  • Men consistently rated their performance to be about 30 percent better than it was and kept trying to solve a difficult problem
    • Women under-rated themselves and quit trying to solve the problem

Male Managers Say Lack of Confidence Holds Women Back

When interviewed anonymously, male managers said that lack of confidence was holding women back. These men don’t say anything to the women, for fear of sounding sexist. One male senior partner evaluated a young female associate as excellent in every respect, except that she didn’t speak up in client meetings. He concluded that she lacked confidence to handle the client account and didn’t promote her. He also determined that confidence should be a formal part of the performance-review process, because it is so important to the individual’s and to the firm’s success.

I believe, If she were a he, the male partner would likely have addressed the issue, but when it comes to women many men are reluctant to share critical, and helpful, feedback. Behind closed doors you might hear one of the reasons, “What do I do if she cries?”

Confidence and Career Success

Research by Germane Consulting, 2011, also found a self confidence problem among professional women. Over 200 senior women, director level or above, spontaneously identified lack of self confidence as the biggest obstacle to achieving their career goals. The most quotable quote and poster child for this research appears below.

constant drip feed self confidence

“I need a constant drip feed of self confidence.”

Confidence Building Solutions

Confidence is like a muscle. The more you use it, the stronger it becomes. But it takes confidence to do the things about which we are less confident, and therein lies the dilemma. Women wait to feel more confident before acting. So we wait and wait and wait. Meanwhile our male colleagues, no more competent than we are, pass us by.

A little math can resolve this dilemma. I call it The Confidence Multiplier, and it determines your Competitive Readiness Score.

  • Men do something new and challenging when they think they have about 60% of the required competencies
  • Women wait until they think they have about 90% of the required competencies

That’s a 30% disadvantage against women. So we have to increase our felt-sense of readiness by 30% to be on par with the competition.

Here’s a step by step example of how the confidence multiplier works in real life.

taking the leap

1. Assess your competence to take on a specific challenge that will likely advance your career.

My self-assessed competence to be a keynote speaker is 60%.

2. Add 30 percentage points to obtain your competitive readiness score.

My competitive readiness score is 90%.

3. When your competitive readiness score is 80% or higher, take the leap!!


Good News about the Confidence Gap for women

Coaching has helped many women become more confident. They also learn techniques to boost confidence when the context is especially challenging. (Self confidence is context dependent. Read more about that here.)

3Plus International features a 4-session self confidence coaching program. You can also choose to include a session on professional image, negotiation skills, impromptu speaking (at meetings and such), or telling your success stories. Contact us for details.

Dr. Anne Perschel

About Dr. Anne Perschel

For over 20 years Dr. Anne Perschel has been an “Unstoppable force for the advancement of women leaders,” beginning with her role as chair of the Women In Manufacturing Conference at a Fortune 50 company. She is currently a coach and trusted advisor to senior and high potential men and women in a variety of industries. Dr. Perschel also works with companies to address systemic and cultural obstacles standing in the way of the promotion and success of women managers and executives.