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Are you truly confident? 9 important lessons for women at work.

 March is Women’s History Month, and Big Think+ is commemorating it with a collection of videos highlighting both women’s history, and the complicated choices facing women who are making history today. We begin with Claire Shipman, co-author of The Confidence Code. Her nine-part expert class is called Mastering the Confidence Code.

The data’s very clear. If it seems that women are being held back professionally due to a lack of confidence, that’s because it’s true. Shipman presents some striking evidence that supports women’s reputation in this regard:

  • A Hewlett-Packard study found that men will take a shot at a job or promotion if they feel just 60% qualified. Women won’t even try unless they believe they’re 100% deserving.
  • A University of Manchester study asked students about to graduate about the salary they expected. Women expected 20% less than men.
  • When given a test that included questions regarding spatial ability, an area in which men tend to do better, women didn’t even bother answering those questions. When they were instructed explicitly to answer all questions, women and men scored equally.

The impact of this confidence gap is profound, going far beyond getting a new job or a raise. These are merely the tip of the iceberg — a lack of confidence is an all-day, every-day inhibitor even outside the office, which prevents many women from moving forward.

Self-esteem and confidence are two different things

Shipman notes that one of the first challenges in writing her book was putting her finger on precisely what “confidence” means. It’s easy to conflate the concept with self-esteem, which is simply the attitude that makes you feel good (or not so good) about yourself.
After consulting a number of experts, Shipman and her co-author came to a more precise definition:

Confidence is the stuff that turns your thoughts into action.

It’s also interesting that — although our upbringing makes a handy scapegoat for our presumed deficits — experts believe that an inclination towards confidence is 25-50% genetic. As for the remaining 50-75%, however, “It’s the nitty gritty experience of life,” says Shipman, “and especially of moments in life that are difficult — moments when we have to use our grit or determination to overcome things.” She adds, “Confidence involves this concept of mastery, which is the process of learning something — but learning something that’s hard.” The encouraging news is that when we do meet a challenge, we embark on a virtuous cycle in which our confidence grows the more we act on it.

Best practice for male managers

Shipman’s Mastering the Confidence Code Big Think+ videos do much more than lay out the problem, fortunately. They’re packed with compelling insights and guidance for overcoming a personal lack of confidence.
It’s an invaluable expert class for women, and for those men who want to be part of the solution. Its final video, “Best Practices for Male Managers to Empower Female Employees,” offers four things a male manager can do to help female team members address the problem.

  1. Create more transparency — Provide forums in which women and men can discuss the confidence gap and the impact it’s having on them.
  2. Rethink how you give reviews — Recognize that women tend to focus on the negative comments they receive more than most men do. Shipman quotes a manager who claimed, “I can give the same 360 review to a man and woman. The man thinks he’s getting a promotion and the woman thinks she’s being told to leave.”
  3. Assign both women and men roles at meetings — Meetings can be a setting in which less-confident people feel less inclined to participate. A remedy for this is to assign meeting roles to both women and men to make sure everyone takes part, and to help establish the habit of everyone making a contribution.
  4. Nudge women to apply for promotions — Shipman cites a program called “The Nudge,” email reminders sent to female employees that remind them to apply for promotions. Companies have found that even such a simple reminder can make all the difference. Shipman points out to managers, “When you help a woman see that you see her in this position, that’s incredibly empowering.”

Mastering the Confidence Code lessons

The lessons in Shipman’s expert class are:

  1. Mastering The Confidence Code: Confidence 101
  2. Mastering The Confidence Code: Acknowledge The Confidence Gap
  3. Mastering The Confidence Code: Self-Reflect on Your Journey with Confidence
  4. Mastering The Confidence Code: Don’t Ruminate, Rewire
  5. Mastering The Confidence Code: Let Go of Perfectionism
  6. Mastering The Confidence Code: When in Doubt, Act
  7. Mastering The Confidence Code: Speak Up Without Upspeak
  8. Mastering The Confidence Code: Embrace Your Intrinsic Strengths
  9. Mastering The Confidence Code: Best Practices for Male Managers to Empower Female Employees
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