Are you truly confident?

I recently met up with a friend who I have known for almost 20 years now.  I consider this woman very successful.  She grew up in NJ and has degrees from Duke University and a law degree from University of Pennsylvania.  Since she got her law degree, she spent 7 years at a top law firm and then she was corporate counsel at a Fortune 100 company.  My friend just started a new job for a global company that is considered one of the most admired in the US. What struck me as most interesting this visit is when she acknowledged doubts recently about whether she could do this most current role.  Not only is this women smart and talented, she is also the epitome of a confidence, social butterfly.  Of all my friends or colleagues who have doubts about themselves, I would never have considered that this applied to this friend too.  My friend’s experiences align pretty closely to what I have been reading about women in technology, leaning in and other topics at the forefront of my interests.

This also very much ties into a book I just finished and a keynote that one of the authors just gave at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Center for Women in Business “The Science of Success” Conference.  Claire Shipman, author of The Confidence Code gave a great overview of a challenge that definitely exists for Women, in technology and other industries.  I had purchased the book prior to seeing Mrs. Shipman speak, but didn’t read it until afterwards.  This is a compilation of my thoughts on the book and notes from her speech.

I think it is now common knowledge that diversity is key and that soft skills are becoming more and more important in the workplace.  There was an HP experiment conducted that highlights the confidence gap.  Women tend to apply for jobs where they have 100% of the skills required for the job, while men apply for jobs when they have 60% of the skills required.  Another research study at Berkeley shows that confidence is a better measure of success than competence.  Women tend to hyper focus on competence.  If this is the case and women are so focused on being competent that we’ll only stretch ourselves when we believe we have met 100% of the requirements, those opportunities just may not be available for us.  It’s imperative that women start treating confidence like a skill and incorporate into our professional and personal play books.

One of the most interesting pieces of The Confidence Code was learning that confidence is at least partially hereditary.  The majority of the brain is the same between men and women.  However, women and men differ in how the brain fires its neurons and also in the risk taking versus worrying areas.  Men have more testosterone and therefore tend to take more risks while women have more estrogen and tend to overthink or ruminate preventing the brain from building the confidence.  The good news is that the significant developments in neurology have taught that we can train our brains – the science known as brain plasticity.

We should not get too bogged down in blaming our genetics as there are also societal impacts that influence confidence in girls.  We subconsciously initiate the confidence gap for girls by raising our girls to be perfectionists and people pleasers.  Girls are taught to follow the rules, be good listeners and do what they are told.  Boys are given a bit more leeway to try things, take risks and ultimately fail.  Ultimately as women transition from school into the workplace, it becomes very difficult for them.  They are still seeking the rewards and praise they got in school, whereas the workplace is really recognizing the confidence, risk taker who is willing to take on increasingly more responsibility.

There are a few recommendations for what we can do differently.

  • Fail fast – do, learn, move on.  Start acclimating yourself to risk taking.
  • Act more, think less – ruminate less. Come up with an explanation that is not a failing on your part.
  • Be authentic – this is critical.
  • Play competitive sports – there is a huge link between confidence in girls and competitive sports.  Not everyone is a winner.  You need to work hard, develop competency and ultimate become confidence.

Confidence is what turns your thoughts into action.


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