The Confidence Gap

As you all know, this month, we celebrated International Women’s Day. Last year, I took part in that movement by speaking as part of a select panel of female executives at an event, and as I looked around the participants at the panel, and listened to their riveting presentations, I was so thrilled to be among this group of remarkable women. Their accomplishments were nothing short of astonishing. And yet, I couldn’t help but notice that a note self-deprecation often crept into their words. Why is it that in spite of all of our accomplishments, in spite of all that we achieve, we still doubt ourselves?

There’s a formal phrase for this: it’s called the “confidence gap.” For years, we women have kept our heads down and played by the rules. We’ve been certain that with enough hard work, our natural talents would be recognized and rewarded. And yet, as we’ve worked, the men around us have continued to get promoted faster and be paid more. Half a century since women first forced open the boardroom doors, our career trajectories still differ from men’s. One of the most critical career strengths is self-confidence. And for many women, unlike for most men, this self-confidence is in short supply. Think about all the times we’ve undermined our own achievements when we discuss them. We’ve all heard it: the successful lawyer who mentions that she received a promotion because she was ‘at the right place at the right time,’ or the engineer who shrugs bashfully when she receives the next big project for her firm, saying she can’t believe she deserves this honor.

You can probably think of phrases you’ve used to downplay your own accomplishments, and many instances where you were tempted to do so. Confidence takes root in childhood but also can be internalized in adulthood, through experience, hard work or practice. I myself was plagued by my inner critic as a young woman, and I fought that by using a simple rubber band, worn around my wrist, to snap whenever self-doubt crept in. Closing the confidence gap means being honest about your abilities, not constantly undervaluing them. It means accepting that the occasional failure is part of being human – and we are all human. It means letting criticisms and mistakes go – maybe we learn from them, but then we don’t need to hang on to them and let them derail us. It means appreciating ourselves and valuing our accomplishments, letting them shine brightly, like that strong bright light we all hold inside of us.