Women’s Confidence – Where Is It?

I was at a social event recently when the inevitable “and what do you do?” question came up. I know it’s considered smart to be able to answer in a sentence or a pithy sound bite but… in all honesty I’d fail the speed networking test hands down. I really can’t sum up the complexity of what I do in a sentence. Particularly so as I have an aversion to using the word ‘coach’. But if forced confidence building for women is what I say.

The underlying theme of all that I do is building confidence in women. Lack of confidence has been identified by the Institute of Leadership and Management as a significant factor in women not being equally represented in senior positions.

Yet almost all the women I work with do have confidence, and many of them are already in senior positions, so maybe my little networking soundbite should be ‘I grow women’s confidence’.

Most definitions of confidence run something like this one:

1. Full trust; belief in the powers, trustworthiness, or reliability of a person or thing.

2. Belief in oneself and one’s powers or abilities; self-confidence; self-reliance; assurance.

3. Certitude; assurance.

I am always intrigued that women are seen to have less confidence (than men is what we’re really saying here).

Confidence can be a vague and nebulous thing; one day we feel brimming with it and another day we’re knocked off balance by a chance remark. We know that experiences we have in childhood can nurture or knock our confidence levels. Coincidentally, I was having this conversation with my hairdresser recently. She commented that my children must have masses of confidence because I was such a ‘go getty’ type of person and had encouraged them to try new things etc.

In contrast, although in a very loving relationship, she felt her parents had been over cautious leading to her being over cautious in life, (although,as I pointed out, she was running her own business! Not too cautious then.) She is right, our early experiences set patterns we can play out for the rest of our lives. Or we can choose to do something different.

Women’s Confidence

It is possible to learn to be more confident, although it’s not easy. I have watched women bloom on my training courses which is an amazing privilege. It begins with increasing our self esteem, the opinion we have of ourselves. If we have received positive,  affirming and consistent messages in our childhood we can more easily grow and develop our confidence.  We are more likely to take risks, push ourselves.

If we haven’t had that type of parenting we may be full of self doubt, ‘shoulds’ and ‘oughts’. We’ll probably have a default mode of seeing ourselves as victims, someone done unto, rather than a doer of. But the liberating fact is that we can choose to be different! It’s not easy to break those early patterns but it can be done.

Women’s Collective History

But that doesn’t really explain why so many women who are very confident in many other areas of their lives feel a lack of it at work. It doesn’t explain why we are paid less, generally ask for less, and undersell ourselves.

I think that has something to do with the way women have historically been treated in the world of work. There is a parallel between the effects of  less positive parenting on children’s development, and growing up in a world where being female is valued less than being male.

Women clearly do successfully overcome this. I think the first step is an awareness of how it has happened, an understanding of the subtleties of discrimination, however unintentional. This knowledge is itself empowering. And then recognising the impact it has had on you; identifying patterns, negative messages and so on.

Like everything in life it takes practice which is why we often need some support. Which is one reason why I do what I do.

You can find out more details about working with me here

And if you have a story to share, I’d love to hear it.

Photo Credit: Annika Banfield

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Posted on May 23rd, 2011 by

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