Why ‘Confidence’ is Spiralling as an Enemy To Women Leadership

Women’s confidence

At work, women are frequently urged to exhibit “women’s confidence” which is discrimination against women

Women’s confidence is frequently urged to exude as a means of advancing their professions, increasing their compensation, and improving their success at work. Women at work are encouraged to “lean in” to achieve their goals, “stand their ground,” create strong eye contact, adjust their voices, postures, and gestures to come across more assertively, and “fake it ‘til they make it,” according to self-help manuals.

Women’s careers must balance all of this while maintaining their likeability and warmth by coming across as unthreatening, powerful, and undominating. Although the idea of confidence seems to be gender-neutral, particular research shows that confidence is weaponized against women. Leaders frequently blame women’s job failure due to lack of women’s confidence, when they fail to meet their goals. And when women exhibit high levels of confidence through actions like being outgoing or forceful, they run the risk of going overboard and, ironically, coming across as insecure.

Whatever the outcome, women are attacked along with other underrepresented groups for not advancing in the workplace. Women’s confidence may become self-critical as a result of this, which can undermine their self-esteem and further erode their sense of confidence. The specific study interviewed 30 male and 36 female senior leaders who are directors, partners, and executives in accounting and finance, in-depth in order to explore the effects of confidence on men and women’s career paths.

They asked each person to discuss the crucial turning points in their professional development and how their gender affected how they felt at these times. They were particularly interested in learning whether and how individuals leaned on confidence in their personal tales without utilising the word.

The overwhelming majority of the women at work we spoke with (33 out of 36) cited a lack of confidence as the main obstacle to their own and other women’s career advancement. For instance, one female respondent berated herself for not pushing for a significant wage increase to match the level received by a male colleague, stating she should have had more self-confidence to demand more. This is more like automatically facing a situation of discrimination against women.

The study breaks the beneficial relationship between confidence and professional success as well as exposing the gendered nature of the confidence critique. While it is true that addressing self-confidence has some advantages for women for example, in this study, it assisted them in breaking down problems into actionable steps, facilitating a positive sense of agency, and offering a psychological soother for anxiety in the long run, these are outweighed by broader negative effects on women’s mental health and gender equality.

First, the study discovered that focusing on women’s confidence has very transient therapeutic effects. More negative, long-term repercussions of confidence include self-criticism, self-doubt, and generally worse mental health. For instance, even when some women experienced discrimination in hiring or promotion decisions or were threatened by male coworkers, they felt guilty for failing to “put themselves out there” or “seize opportunities” during such trying times.

Women typically took full responsibility for situations beyond their control and, on top of that, self-blamed rather than placing blame on their managers or coworkers. The study’s female participants acknowledged that they had been handled unjustly. However, they were more inclined to blame themselves in order to maintain the illusion that their goals could be reached by projecting the correct amount of confidence, rather than focusing their efforts on the organisation.

Second, focusing on self-confidence is an individually oriented approach that diverts senior leaders from addressing more pervasive organisational barriers to gender equality, such as stereotypes, work design, and the preference for line roles over functional roles, which are more likely to be held by women.

Thirdly, the explicit emphasis on women’s confidence maintains the underlying presumption that consistently radiating confidence is a desirable goal. A more complex image of inclusive leadership is presented by the research. While confidence may be useful in some circumstances, showing humility and vulnerability has a humanising effect that is essential for fostering relatability and psychological safety in others. In other words, in order to create a more inclusive workplace, contemplation and transparency can be healthy and helpful.

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