“Where for art thou, my self-confidence?” she cries.


Many of the people I talk to about career direction feel they lack the confidence to fully explore their options. They express being overwhelmed by second-guessing, self-doubt, perfectionism and the inability to take action when deemed necessary. Women, in particular, describe discomfort while trying to outline paths beyond what they already know. It seems a woman needs more than the knowledge that she is competent in order to move forward; she must also possess complete confidence in her new venture, and that unfortunately is elusive according to a growing body of research. In The Confidence Code: The Science and Art of Self-Assurance—What Women Should Know (Katty Kay and Claire Shipman)* and Women Don’t Ask (Linda Babcock) reflect on the behavioral discrepancies between the genders. Their research reveals women of the same caliber as men in the workplace, at all levels, consistently underestimate their abilities. For example women applied for promotions only when they thought they met all the qualifications, while men applied when they met 60 percent. Men initiate salary negotiations more often and when women do initiate, they ask for far less.

Cameron Anderson, a psychologist at UC Berkeley says, “When people are confident, when they think they are good at something, regardless of how good they are they display a lot of confident nonverbal and verbal behavior.” As human beings we respond to this behavior, believing this person to be as good as they project they are. We’re more likely to hire them, promote them and pick them to join our team.

As scientists pile up more data showing the link between confidence and compensation and promotion, it makes sense to think about how to improve confidence. Authors, Kay and Shipman argue women need to learn that success in the “professional jungle” depends on more than just doing the job right; you need confidence to excel. To develop it, women must extend themselves, stretch, ask for more, risk a little, push beyond what’s known and take action.

  • Move beyond math anxiety that keeps you from obtaining your degree or further education. Take advantage of tutoring at your college or university.
  • Obtain peer support; seek out people who will tell you both what you are doing well and one or two things you can improve.
  • Take those thoughts to start your own business seriously. Sign up for a small business management class through the community college or Mercy Corp..

It’s only by doing more that we realize we can do more. We need proof that we can do more than we think we can. We need evidence and the experience of accomplishing something we didn’t think we could do and then we will have the confidence, not the other way around. Increased confidence is the reward not the prerequisite and positions us to experience the greater work-life satisfaction we deserve.

*From “The Atlantic” cover story “The Confidence Gap” by Katty Kay and Claire Shipman, May 2014.


Originally posted on Career Transition: The Inside Job