Why is confidence still an issue for women at work?

Over the years I would have mentored and coached more than 100 women formally and informally in business. It still puzzles me how many successful women still suffer from both a lack of confidence and self-belief at work.  Some of these women openly admit this is what is holding them back, while others suffer in silence and it is proven through their behaviour of self- doubting and not believing they can achieve or are worthy of success.  When they achieve a record result or win a new client, it is nearly brushed aside as no big deal or anyone could have done that.

It has been one of my biggest frustrations leading a team of all women.  These women are amazing. They inspire me on a daily basis with what they achieve in the corporate world, at home and outside of work. To be surrounded by such talent and enthusiasm makes it easy to come to work every day.

So how is it that on nearly a weekly basis, a coaching session reverts back ultimately to a lack of self-confidence around a sales pitch, negotiation, making a call to a new contact or giving professional advice? Why do they often doubt their expertise around what they know and have successfully practiced for years and years?

As a Leader, it presents a daily and immediate challenge to coach on. I find myself continually coming up with new techniques and tactics to reinforce what I already think and believe about these women, expecting that they start believing it themselves. These include:

  • Facts – giving them facts and figures about their performance that can’t be argued. For example, you have won 8 new clients this month, you have achieve $30K in revenue for the business, you won 80% of the proposals you submitted and you have a 99% retention rate on all placements you have made. Hard to argue with real data!
  • Give them something to believe in – I have found that women in particular are more effective when they are working towards a greater purpose, to achieve an ultimate goal, other than just making money.  They need to believe in something greater than their individual performance to see they are making a difference in business, themselves and ultimately in the lives of others.
  • Reward and recognition – a verbal recognition at a meeting, a group email praising their achievements or a tangible reward such as a piece of jewellery, a dinner with their partner or clothing seems to generate a greater response than an increase in salary or a  large commission cheque (although that works too!).
  • Expect confidence – treating team members as confident professional and expecting they can do the things they may hesitate to take on. You get what you expect.
  • Being uncomfortable – sometimes I have had the best success asking them to do something that they really don’t want to it and it pushes them way outside their comfort zone.  So much so, they learn the most and their confidence sky rockets.
  • Fake it until you make it – sometimes when you don’t feel 100% confident in a situation, I encourage my team to “fake it until you make it”.  This is not about lying your way through a situation, it’s about exuding confidence, remaining calm and delivering a rational response. I remember being 21 conducting a meeting with a CFO in large blue-chip organisation and being drilled about the current market conditions and salaries.  Instead of being intimidated and bumbling through answers, I was clear and confident and if I wasn’t 100% sure, I said I would find out and get back to him. It won me this client until this day purely because of my confidence.
  • Role models and inspiration – I encourage my team to read books, seek out mentors outside of our business and to learn from others’ success.  The best mentors can be those that have achieved the results you aspire to and follow their recipe for success rather than reinventing the wheel.   Surround yourself with these people and learn as much as you.

Can self-confidence be learnt or re-built? Can we coach to overcome it? In my experience the best we can do is nurture the talent that we have, believe in people and hope to inspire them to things they didn’t even think they were capable of.

2 thoughts on “Why is confidence still an issue for women at work?

  1. It is baffling, but in my workplace it sometimes is an advantage. I find that the best Sonographers are those who lack a little self confidence as they are meticulous and methodical to ensure that they don’t ‘miss’ anything. They always question their skills and therefore, almost by default, they become some the best leaders in ultrasound as they strive to learn more and attain high levels of competency.
    It certainly doesn’t mean that individuals that have great self confidence are not highly skilled, it is merely an observation having spent much of my career training Sonographers. Your points on how to deal with low self-confidence individuals are gold as they still need to know that their efforts and standards are appreciated in the workplace.

  2. Great post – thank you! I spend most of my working life coaching leaders and, by far, the most common phrase I hear is something along the lines of ‘what if they discover I am a total fraud?’ This phrase is uttered time and time again by extraordinary people who are excelling in their fields – particularly women. Your post provides some terrific practical suggestions to deal with a lack of confidence in team members – I really enjoyed reading it.

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