A Lack of Confidence Isn’t What’s Holding Back Working Women
by STÉPHANIE THOMSON
Women are hesitant to talk up their accomplishments because they are often penalized when they do.
…Together, two new pieces of research are helping identify why it’s so hard for women to boast about their accomplishments.
The first study, conducted by researchers at three European business schools, confirms what many working women instinctively know:
While they might be told confidence is the key to professional success, that’s rarely the case in practice.
Unless women can temper their assertiveness with more stereotypically feminine traits like empathy and altruism, confidence will do little to advance their careers.
…While all that most men seem to need in order to succeed in the workplace is a little bit of spunk, women must learn how to master the art of appearing both sure of themselves and modest.
Too much of the latter, and women’s achievements get overlooked. Too much of the former, and they can face what experts refer to as the “backlash effect”—social and professional sanctions for failing to conform to gender norms. For example, confident women are often perceived as less likeable and hireable.
According to another recent study, it’s most often a fear of this backlash, and not a lack of confidence, that prevents many women from self-promoting.
…Ultimately, the biggest problem with the confidence-gap theory is that it places the responsibility for closing the gender gap on individual women when the solution might instead lie beyond their control.
… Smith, who has studied gender norms in the workplace, says that the strategies that make the biggest difference in women’s lack of self-promotion put the onus on companies, not the women who work in them.
One simple tactic is for workplaces to normalize the practice of self-promotion, so that when women talk about their achievements, they are less likely to face the well-documented backlash. “Start each meeting by asking everyone to share one thing they’ve achieved since you last met,” Smith recommends.