Inspiring Confidence in Our Female Colleagues

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I am often approached about how to recruit and retain women – here’s another insight on that topic.  For all you women out there and the men who want you to succeed, this article from The Atlantic –  The Confidence Gap –  is worth reading.  It’s about gender differences related to confidence, a topic we’ve heard about before, but one I’ve never seen dissected so thoughtfully. It really resonated with me and is validated by conversations I have had with many of my female friends. 
 
When I first read the article, I found it a bit disheartening because it points out some real challenges for women – some biological, some cultural – that may be hard to overcome.  But the more I’ve thought about it the last couple of days, the more I believe there are things we can do as women to help ourselves, and our female colleagues, succeed.

First, I read a book called Why Good Girls Don’t Get Ahead… But Gutsy Girls Do: Nine Secrets Every Career Woman Must Know by Kate White.  I read it during the few weeks after I quit Andersen Consulting and before I started at Tactica.  I came into that job at the ripe age of 23 with a new philosophy that was embraced at this start-up company.  I constantly asked for more, jumped in, and took risks, and was rewarded greatly for it, sometimes uncomfortably fast.  I pushed for an early promotion to manager, arguably about 6 months too early, and got it.  It was hard, but I learned a ton and it encouraged me to continue taking risks.  I absolutely still have my insecurities and resonated a lot with the article, but I think this book helped me rewire some of my “natural” tendencies.
Second, I recently watched this video Your Body Language Shapes Who You Are where social psychologist Amy Cuddy shows how “power posing” could have an impact on our success.  I found it compelling when I watched it; I was really surprised by the evidence around how our body language not only changes how others perceive us but literally changes our own body chemistry to provide more confidence.  What really moved me was trying it for myself.  I couldn’t believe that changing the way I sat or stood changed how easy it was for me to ask for a sale or deliver a hard message to a client.  The speaker talks about “fake it ’til you make it” and it is a practical piece of advice that complements the Atlantic article.

As for how to help our female colleagues, I think an awareness of these challenges is really helpful.  Two stories really struck me in the article – the one about the male and female colleagues in contrast to each other and the quote about the male manager being afraid to bring this up for fear of gender bias.  I know it is hard, but women deserve to have someone not only talk with them openly about these types of challenges, but also support them in experimenting with behaviors that may drive more confidence.