According to many studies, men and women begin their careers equally confident about reaching the top, but over time women’s confidence declines. Even though we have made huge progress in gender equality in the past decade, at the very top women are still nearly absent.
But why is this so when the business case for diversity is clear to see? A recent McKinsey study found companies with 10% higher gender and racial diversity in their management teams have a 6% higher profit. I personally believe that the more diverse the workforce, the more likely you are to succeed as a company. The company with the most flexibility in its thinking and behaviour will have the greatest influence on its customers.
Women, when our competence in the workplace has never been more obvious, why is it that a lack of confidence is holding us back? For all of you reading this and nodding your heads, it is important to remember that confidence can be built – we CAN make a positive shift towards reducing the confidence gap. Cindy Gallop (Founder & CEO of IfWeRanTheWorld) believes that we all need to “microact”. Real change happens from the bottom up, not from top down, so every single person needs to take microactions everyday to affect change.
Here are a few of my tips on how to influence change at an individual level:
1) Act assertively:
Fake it until you make it! If you pretend you are confident, with practice you will become confident. People that need to be 99% sure to speak out won’t speak out at all. Yet others will have more confidence in you when you put a stake in the ground, even if you do make mistakes along the way. So just go for it! My coach, Nikki Watkins, says that “everyone has extraordinary in them, you just have to get out of the way of yourself”. This could not be more true of many of the highly competent but not as equally confident women I come across in the workplace.
2) Embrace the spotlight:
Just because it doesn’t feel natural don’t let the extrovert in the team take all the glory. Do not let your contributions be sidelined because of stage fright. I once heard someone say that “women who don’t self-promote are letting us all down”. Generally men do not have a problem doing this. If the thought of this makes you nervous I would encourage you to watch the TED talk by social psychologist Amy Cuddy (https://www.ted.com/talks/amy_cuddy_your_body_language_shapes_who_you_are?language=en) where she suggests a little trick before a meeting to help increase confidence. She suggests doing the “Wonder Woman” or the “Runner crossing the finish line” pose in front of a mirror. Both release testosterone and reduce cortisol which will make you feel calmer and more confident.
3) Call it out:
If you are naturally confident and can see that there are members of the team that are not – then help these colleagues speak up. Encourage them and acknowledge their opinions. Don’t talk over people or repeat what they have said. And most importantly if you witness these sort of behaviours be bold and call them out.
If every individual, introvert or extrovert, male or female, becomes more mindful of their own actions and adopts new habits, collectively we can diminish the confidence gap.