Why women shouldn’t be more confident.

Updated: May 23, 2019

For as long as I can remember, the story seems to be that women are under confident. Apparently this a massive problem that is the root of many things including the gender pay gap, lack of career progression, women leaving industries and the terrible last season of game of thrones*

The only problem with this argument is that it’s a load of old cobblers, for two main reasons.

Firstly there is no evidence to link women’s career progression with confidence levels; in fact, recent research found the exact opposite. That even when women demonstrated the same amount of confidence as their male counterparts, they were still less likely to receive the same rewards.

The second reason is much more critical. I don’t think women are under-confident. I believe that men are over-confident.

Let me say that again for those at the back.

Women are usually adequately confident, but men are usually overconfident.

Of course, it’s a sliding scale, but in the main, men are more often socialised to be more confident than women. Even if they do not have adequate proof to back that confidence up. Again, don’t go trusting my word on this. Have a look at the research.

There’s a great training exercise that I’ve been running for a few years, which helps to determine your confidence levels; you can find it in the fantastic book How to measure anything by Douglas Hubbard. When I’ve delivered this exercise, Women nearly always score bang on the money, whereas men almost always vastly overestimate their ability and are frequently incredibly bemused that they were not 100% right.

Overconfidence is a big problem for business. If a large proportion of your staff are overconfident in their estimations, not only will they be getting a lot of things wrong, they will likely be shutting down people who have the right answers — creating a culture of he who shouts loudest wins along the way.

The good news is you can “re-calibrate your confidence”, research has shown that by undertaking a few simple exercises a week, you can improve your ability to make accurate estimates. The problem is, its hard to convince overconfident people that they might need to improve.

If organisations stopped viewing women’s confidence as a problem and instead turned their attention to my men’s overconfidence, the impact on organisations would be phenomenal.

The question is, has anyone got the confidence to try it?

* Ok maybe not the last one

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