The confidence gap – how work places can play their part

As you get quiet, it allows you to tune in to your intuition, an inner knowing. But the quiet can also present projections of your world back to you, including the biases, and if you don’t question them they can rule your life. 

The majority of my clients are female, and when speaking about confidence what often comes up is low-self worth, lack of boundaries and imposter syndrome. 

My own journey. 

When I read this article I was working with a transformational coach, trying to manage my personal and professional burnout, and I had a sudden realisation. Hang on a minute, do you mean the imposter syndrome, self-doubt and low self-worth I’m feeling aren’t because I’m not good enough to do my job? It’s because the system is making me think I’m not good enough for my job? Is the system benefiting from me having these feelings? Huh! 

That was my aha moment. Now as a confidence coach I have to hold a space for both of these realities – how do we look within ourselves to figure out what we need and speak up? But also, how do we recognise the systems at play that have kept us from doing this in the past and still contribute to our self-doubt and lack of confidence? 

Education and self-enquiry are the first steps to personal growth but to also challenge and change the systems keeping us oppressed. 

The confidence gap refers to men’s tendencies to overestimate their abilities and how women often underestimate them. 

Columbia Business School in New York says “men tend to overestimate their abilities by something like 30%. And it’s not that they’re faking this confidence, they genuinely believe it.” [source]

As women, we often underestimate our abilities. We believe our talents are less worthy than they actually are. “Over the course of a career it can lead to fewer promotions, limited opportunities and less pay.” says BBC journalist Katty Kay. 

This is why I coach around confidence, I believe if women trust themselves, their abilities and their vision they will speak up in their work and their communities. We will take action on important issues because we know how important our voices are. 

However, I do not believe this is the only way we solve the confidence gap. If it was the case that women had to go on a few courses or work with a coach to improve their confidence there wouldn’t be a confidence gap. The issue isn’t women not working enough on their confidence. It is the systems around women, in the workplace, in politics and in the community that are not allowing us to show up and speak up. 

What the studies say… 

There have been a number of studies looking at how confidence plays out between males and females.

  • In 2011, the Institute of Leadership and Management, in the United Kingdom, surveyed British managers about how confident they feel in their professions. Half the female respondents reported self-doubt about their job performance and careers, compared with fewer than a third of male respondents.
  • Author of Women Don’t Ask, Linda Babcock, and a professor of economics at Carnegie Mellon University has found, in studies of business-school students, that men initiate salary negotiations four times as often as women do. When women do negotiate, they ask for 30 per cent less money than men do.
  • At Manchester Business School, professor Marilyn Davidson has been quizzing her students on what they expect and deserve to earn five years after graduating. “I’ve been doing this for about seven years,” she has written, “and every year there are massive differences between the male and female responses.” On average, she reports, the men think they deserve £65,000 a year and the women £52,000—or 20 per cent less.
  • At Hewlett Packard, a review of personnel records found that women working at HP applied for a promotion only when they believed they met 100 per cent of the qualifications listed for the job.

[source]

These are just a few of the studies showcasing how the confidence gap is impacting women vs men. If you want to explore the data some more I’ve linked some useful resources at the bottom of this post. 

What can businesses do to close the confidence gap?

As I begin to work with businesses, something I’m being asked is ‘okay, so there’s a confidence gap – what can we do about it?’ 

The first step is once you are aware of the issue, acknowledge it. It’s easy to feel like an issue is too big or outside of your control but imperfect action is better than no action at all.

The next step is knowledge, knowledge, knowledge – if we know better, we can do better. Read up on the confidence gap. Invite the experts. Most importantly, speak to the women in your business, and on your team. How does confidence show up for them? What do they need from your business to be seen? What practices do you have in place to ensure equality? 

To force the issue of gender equality some countries have put ‘board directive quotas’ in place, they require the under-representative sex (usually female) to represent 40% of the board. The EU has now taken on this directive which will be a legal requirement for large companies by 2026. 

It’s important to know that these steps aren’t performative, studies into how introducing quotas have impacted the workplace show “that companies made substantive changes to programmes addressing leadership and pay gaps, as well as childcare and workplace flexibility.” [source]

Finally, make sure you have training in place across the board. Not just for the females within your company – they already know how confidence impacts them and their opportunities. Make sure the whole team is educated. If we’re going to close the confidence gap, plus the gender pays gap, and provide equal opportunities for everyone we need allies on our mission. 

Leah is a confidence coach working with women on how confidence shows up for them. She works with businesses to educate them on what the confidence gap is, how we create fair opportunities for all, and the benefits this can have on their bottom line. 

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