The confidence gap is an interesting concept. Closely linked to imposter syndrome, it is the disparity in confidence levels between men and women. A person in the same scenario, with the same experiences, might feel very differently about their chance of success dependant on their gender.
So why does the confidence gap exist, and what can we do about it?
Is the confidence gap real?
There are several schools of thought here. Some feel that the confidence gap is absolutely real and that women need to work on self-projection and assertiveness to access the same possibilities as men.
Others feel that the confidence gap isn’t so much a ‘real thing’, more a reaction to unequal treatment of women – particularly in the workplace – through the years. This is attributed to lots of factors such as pay differences and sexist cultural norms.
From either perspective, it remains true that women tend to be commercially outperformed by men. Whether we consider the differences in pay for non-gender related roles or the proportion of women in top corporate positions, there is clearly a variance.
Whilst the tide is turning, with campaigns such as Flex Appeal working to provide a more inclusive working environment for mothers of young children, what can you do to feel more confident, and keep pace with your male colleagues?
Where does the confidence gap begin?
Often (although of course not always) girls tend to be less confident than boys. Most of our behaviors originate from childhood, and it stands to reason that lifelong traits are established early on.
A study by the US National Bureau of Economic Research bears this out, finding that young female students perform less well when co-educated with high performing male peers. Whether this is because of an impact on their academic confidence whilst studying in a co-educational environment is not easy to establish.
Needless to say, culture is borne from childhood; so working with children to reinforce their self-confidence is essential to stop the confidence gap in its tracks.
What can women do to assert their confidence?
Wherever the confidence gap comes from, there are techniques and practices that can assist women in improving both their self-esteem and self-confidence. Both factors are innately linked.
Improving your mindset
To enhance your self-confidence, you must first be able to recognize and appreciate your accomplishments and strengths. Being able to acknowledge your strengths allows you to take ownership of what you bring to the table, and to provide you with a solid foundation on which to build.
There are simple ways to do this:
- Journaling: recording your small wins creates a habit of recognizing positive achievements.
- Self-analysis: write down exactly what you have achieved – this doesn’t have to be academic or career-driven – seeing a physical list of everything you have accomplished makes it easier to appreciate your successes.
- Manifestation: considering with focus what you wish to achieve, and the path by which you will get there. This can help identify what tools you require and enable you to progress.
Changing your response mechanisms
We all suffer disappointments and setbacks from time to time. How we respond to them dictates the impact they have.
Feeling disheartened and let down is a spiral that can lead to real despondency, and so give careful thought to how you react to negativity and how that goes on to impact your own self-esteem.
- ‘I get to’ not ‘I have to’: this is such a simple but profound switch in thinking. If you didn’t get the promotion you wanted, perhaps you have been advised to up-skill in a particular area, or decide to apply for a different role. Acknowledging that you have the skills and resources to be able to expand your education, or the ability to apply for other jobs on the market helps to identify your power and freedoms, rather than feeling like one rejection should set the tone.
- Replace ‘sorry’ with ‘thank you’: another easy but significant change. Try counting in one day how many times you say sorry. Stop apologizing; it does nothing for your confidence levels! If you are running late, try saying ‘thank you for waiting for me!’ if you have forgotten something, try ‘thanks very much for your patience!’
Don’t be afraid to be heard
Communication is key to getting your point across, and how we make ourselves heard is important. Here are some tips to make sure you communicate how and when you need to:
- Don’t shout: It can be tempting to raise your voice if your message is not being heard. Instead, try projecting to reach the people at the back of the room; projection rather than volume helps you keep your cool, and get your point made.
- Practise, rinse, and repeat: If you have a situation coming up which is concerning you, make sure to practice exactly what you want to say. This could apply for an interview, a personal discussion or a presentation. Making sure you have rehearsed cements your message in your head, avoids stumbling or missing out crucial points, and using cue cards in advance means you are unlikely to forget anything.
- Take a moment: we always speak faster than it sounds in our own head. You don’t need to rush and risk making your words sound jumbled. Take a deep breath in between sentences, and pause to emphasize important points. Your audience will listen much more attentively.
How we present ourselves has an immediate impact on how others perceive us. Imagine a scenario and how you wish to be perceived; and then dress appropriately.
Never feel pressured into modifying your appearance in a way that makes you uncomfortable – it always shows. If you are attending a business meeting and feel awkward in heels, wear brogues; you should feel as confident as you wish to appear.
- Posture: never slump, avoid eye contact, or talk to the floor. All these things make you feel less confident and negatively impact your conversations and interactions.
- Keep your chin up, make eye contact, and deliver your message confidently.
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