How real is “the confidence gap?” How do you address it in your own work? This was one of the topical questions I asked during a recent TweetChat I hosted for Jenn Dennard and #HealthITChicks.
What would you tell your 20-year-old self? That was one of the questions posed a few days later to me and my co-panelists at the 3rd annual Women in Business Conference, sponsored by the Women in Business Club at Hult International Business School. Our panel was entitled, “Leading Change in Technology.”
One of the panelists, Nancy Li, is a young woman with a PhD in Materials Science and Engineering who works as Manager of Edge Computing Commercialization at Verizon. In response to that question, she quickly answered, “Be fearless.” After everything I learned about Nancy’s career and experiences, I wasn’t at all surprised by her answer. The other panelist, Florence Lu, is a Senior Solution Architect and four-time IBM Master Inventor working at IBM Research (where she has filed more than 180 patent applications). She commented on the importance of developing public speaking skills, pointing out that if you want to be a leader, you must be able to present your ideas to others. Clearly she has been an idea generator and innovator throughout her career.
I’ve spoken and written in the past few years on issues women face at work and willingly shared my own experiences as a professional woman and IT leader over three decades. I was truly impressed with Nancy and Florence’s accomplishments as technology professionals and their eagerness to share their own advice. And their confidence!
I highly recommend reading the article, “The Confidence Gap” by Katty Kay and Claire Shipman, published in The Atlantic in May 2014. They did extensive research on the differences between how girls and boys and women and men approach situations. The bottom line is that confidence matters as much as competence and confidence must lead to action. A few excerpts from the article:
“A growing body of evidence shows just how devastating this lack of confidence can be. Success, it turns out, correlates just as closely with confidence as it does with competence. No wonder that women, despite all our progress, are still woefully underrepresented at the highest levels. All of that is the bad news. The good news is that with work, confidence can be acquired. Which means that the confidence gap, in turn can be closed.”
“Confidence is a belief in one’s ability to succeed, a belief that stimulates action. In turn, taking action bolsters one’s belief in one’s ability to succeed. So, confidence accumulates – through hard work, through success, and even through failure … To become more confident, women need to stop thinking so much and just act … If we keep at it, if we channel our talent for hard work, we can make our brains more confidence-prone.”
People who know me would describe me as confident. Little do they know how often I too worry about not being prepared enough or not being smart enough. I guess that’s what you call “the imposter syndrome.” I doubt there’s a woman that hasn’t experienced that syndrome at some point in their career.
So how do you overcome that? Where does confidence come from? It comes from within, deep within. You need to be comfortable in your own skin. You need to focus more on who and what you are, and less on what you aren’t.
As I shared on the TweetChat, I’m often the only woman in the room or on a call these days. I own my space and my expertise. I know what I know, and I know what I don’t know. I don’t BS my way through. I am willing to be vulnerable. I know my strengths and what I’m good at. I continually learn. And I’m willing to stretch.
I’d venture to say that you don’t rise to a leadership level at McKinsey & Company without being both confident and competent. In a recent McKinsey Blog, four female leaders shared their advice. I particularly liked these spot-on words of advice:
- Form a personal board of directors
- Place joy and passion at the center of whatever you do
- Be bolder, and don’t be afraid to ask for what you need
- Be authentic
- Take risks fearlessly
A new book worth checking out is “Why Do So Many Incompetent Men Become Leaders? (And How to Fix It).” According to Amazon’s description of the book, author Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic asks two powerful questions: Why is it so easy for incompetent men to become leaders? And why is it so hard for competent people — especially competent women — to advance?
“Building Confidence – Developing Your Inner Strength and Voice” is just one of the many topics I will be covering in the upcoming online course, “Equipping Emerging Leaders for Success” aimed at women early in their career. We’ll explore how foundational self-confidence is to your success and how the lack of confidence can be a limiting factor, and discuss practical tips. This course is just one of the offerings of C-change – a new service from StarBridge Advisors aimed at developing women leaders in health IT. You can learn more about C-change and this course here.