For women, winning at work is not about competence; it’s about confidence. A lack of confidence (perceived and real) is sabotaging our success and no amount of quota, flexible work arrangements or equal pay opportunities will make a difference if we don’t win the game against ourselves. It’s crazy to think we still await that tap on the shoulder before bringing our music to the world, considering the amazing impact we make when we step onto the business stage:
- Women bring the dosh: Companies with a larger number of senior women produce better financial performance.
- Women have the smarts: More women than men graduate from university.
- Women lead the way: Women rate higher in overall leadership effectiveness, than their male counterparts, with the greatest gap evident at the highest executive levels.
- Women lift the pack: Boards with more women are more ethical; companies with more women, on executive committees, bring in more revenue; and balancing a group of men with women lifts the collective IQ.
Why women rock in the basement, not on the stage
If our ability to play music is as good as any man, why are we still playing in life’s basement? Only 21% of directors on ASX 200 boards are women. There are still 29 boards in the ASX 200 with no women at all. Why? It’s a complex issue combining stereotypes, biases, family duties, glass ceilings, boys’ clubs and more. However, lack of confidence—a reluctance to stand up, speak out and put ourselves on centre stage plagues even the most successful woman.
Confidence: it’s a problem, even if it’s not
A lack of confidence affects us on the inside and the outside. The inside is hidden – shameful and debilitating; the outside is unconscious, unknown and creates an equal amount of damage.
The inside game
When we lack confidence, we marginalise ourselves; hold ourselves back; become our biggest barrier; and, inadvertently, fight for our minimisation. We downplay our achievements; reject compliments; and share the credit, so convincingly, that our blue ribbon becomes a certificate of participation.
The outside game
Winning the inner game doesn’t mean the game is over. We sabotage our credibility unconsciously, through certain communication styles and leadership behaviours, resulting in a perception of low confidence.
Tips for getting out of your own way
- Quit the questioning tonality – Tonality rises as if you are asking a question, even when you’re not. ‘Hi. My name is Sharon?’ Really Sharon? Are you sure? Ditch this insidious habit immediately.
- Stop hedging your language – A reluctance to make declarative statements causes an overreliance on softening language to cover multiple perspectives. Don’t weaken your conviction by diluting your stance. Make a statement then handle pushback if it comes to you.
- Speak up – Use your voice. Be heard. Be visible. Be one of the first to speak in groups and meetings. Speak every 10–15 minutes.
A combination of these habits can appear as one of the following 12 globally recognised leadership derailers:
- Staller – not moving forward on decisions, focused on perfection not momentum.
- Fence-sitter – trying to accommodate everyone; trying to make the ‘right’ decision.
The way forward
Winning the confidence game is about backing yourself, putting yourself forward, and owning your power and potential. No-one can help you until they can hear you. You need to be visible in the game. Don’t wait for your coach’s permission to play—get on the field, the world will thank you.
As a professional People Whisperer, Anneli has been working with leaders to improve their communication and interpersonal intelligence for almost a decade. She coaches senior women to increase their visibility, confidence and personal power for greater professional impact and is often invited to speak on Credible Communication for women. Anneli is also co-author of Developing Direct Reports: Taking the guesswork out of leading leaders, a leader’s practical guide for developing performance at work.
Schwartz, T. (2015). The New York Times. Overcoming the Confidence Gap for Women. Accessed 6th November 2015 http://www.nytimes.com/2015/06/13/business/dealbook/overcoming-the-confidence-gap-for-women.html?_r=3
 Frankel, L. P. (2004) Business Plus. Nice girls don’t get the corner office: Unconscious mistakes women make that sabotage their careers, New York, p 245.