The Confidence Factor

we can do itThe feminization of the work force gives us an opportunity to create work environments that value a balance between what men and women bring to the table. But it does require women to step up to the plate, be courageous and take some risks.

Former secretary-general of the United Nations Kofi Annan, a wise man and promoter of women’s equality, once told a story that illustrates how women often lack self-confidence.  When confronted on why there were not more women in top civil service UN jobs, he said:

“I’ve always been interested in seeing talented colleagues move up, and in my experience, many of them are women. So, whenever an opening for a promotion was advertised, I often said to a talented person, ‘You should apply for this job’.

“Women almost universally told me they weren’t experienced enough or didn’t have sufficient background. I never had a man say anything but ‘Thank you, I will apply’.”(Story from ‘Women Lead the Way’ by Linda Tarr-Whelan)

As women, our behavior is shaped by messages we receive throughout our lives. It’s socially acceptable for us to be modest and understated. We are encouraged in many subtle and not so subtle ways to play a supporting rather than a leading role. It’s perfectly understandable why many women don’t have the confidence to step outside these norms of behavior and apply for bigger leadership roles.

The problem is, the world desperately needs more women to join men at the top of organizations to create more balanced decision-making, creativity, and innovation. It’s time to rethink the messages about what is socially acceptable behavior for women. Just imagine how great it will be when women are universally admired for being clear, direct, decisive and confident, instead of being criticized for being pushy and self-promoting.

In the meantime, if you are the proud owner of a little voice that whispers unhelpful comments like, “I’m not experienced enough,” or “I couldn’t do that,” try recognizing it for what it is – an imaginary fear that stops you trying new things. Next time someone suggests you for a new job, ignore the thought that you don’t have sufficient background and just say, “thank you, I will apply.”


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