As our 11th Businesswoman of the Year (BWOTY) 2017 awards loom, almost every year at this time, I think about confidence at work. Workplace confidence is complicated; it’s different for everyone, but there’s little doubt that women suffer a crisis of it the most. Men strive and push on while we (or those of us that feel this way) lack this confidence; we undervalue ourselves, don’t talk about our salaries or apply for jobs until we think we’re 100 per cent qualified to do so (as opposed to men who feel they need only be 60 per cent qualified to do so). Those that have it are captivating- it seems to be something spouted so effortlessly and enviably – yet to those that only recognise recurring feelings of Imposter Syndrome, it can seem unreachable.
Progress towards equality is slow, but regardless, it seems the confidence shortfall persists. And it is creating what broadcaster Katty Kay calls ‘a confidence gap’.
In a piece for the BBC, Kay, writes that the confidence gap serves as a barrier to women’s progress in the workplace. “Men tend to overestimate their abilities,” she said. “We women, on the other hand, tend to routinely underestimate our abilities. Our perception of our talent skews lower than our actual worth. This difference is what we’ve dubbed the confidence gap.”
So yes, in short, it holds women back in the office.
Issues like sexism in the workplace are complicating and adding to the matter, but Kay isn’t wrong; I hear it all the time. From family members, friends, endless surveys on the internet. How many times have you heard a woman say she was just lucky to get as far as she’s got? Or she was in the “right place at the right time”? Or “Jesus, you really landed on your feet there!” The language we use in the workplace either as, or when talking about ourselves, remains skewed; you’re either a ball-breaker a la the Devil Wears Prada, “unlikable” or not quite up to the job, or so goes the mythology.
Over the course of a career, the confidence gap can lead to fewer promotions, limited opportunities and less pay, Kay added.
She puts female self-doubt down to a noxious stew of perfectionism, risk aversion, fear of failure, and over-thinking. Thankfully, she also says it’s a pattern that can easily be broken – namely, by instilling that lost confidence in the current generation of women and beyond.
Her parting advice? “Closing the confidence gap means being honest about your abilities, not constantly undervaluing them.It means accepting that the odd failure is part of the human condition. It means letting upsets, criticisms and mistakes go and not clinging to them like a dog with a bone. And it means not trying to be perfect.”
Equally important, when speaking about such a loaded term, finding true confidence at work means being your truest self. It doesn’t mean emulating the loudest person in the room or doing as another would to take the next step. It means doing what feels right to you, that yields confidence and ultimately a happier working life.
And if you still need more advice on how to get there, career psychologist Sinead Brady has these tips for you.