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Growing your confidence: Why we need to change the system NOT women

As a personal development coach working with women, I often find myself being asked to explore

confidence with my clients. From these conversations it is evident that confidence levels can

influence a woman’s aspirations and beliefs about herself and what she can do. Self-confidence is

our trust or belief in our own skills and capabilities. Confidence seems to be quite a common topic

that women struggle with. I have often wondered why it rears its head so much in conversations

with women (inside and outside of coaching).

Are women less confident than men?

Do men also suffer from crises of confidence and if so, why is it not so publicly discussed? There

may be a number of explanations for this gender difference. Maybe men do suffer from lack of

confidence at times but keep this a well-hidden secret because socially it is important to appear

confident from a masculine perspective. Perhaps it is just easier for women to talk about such

things. An alternative explanation could be that it has become a common perspective that women

are less confident, particularly in the workplace, and so many women align themselves to this

viewpoint and adopt that assumption about themselves.

Do women really suffer from imposter syndrome any more than men?

‘Imposter Syndrome’ is an example of a common perspective associated with women. It is the idea

that even high achieving people can experience self-doubt and feel that their success is due to lucky

circumstances. They believe they are fooling others; that they are really an imposter and will be

found out. Living with such a self-perception can be stressful and create anxiety so needs to be

challenged where possible.

Much has been written about imposter syndrome and particularly in connection with women.

Authors such as Tulshyan and Burey (2021) writing in Harvard Business Review point out that it

is often written about in terms of ‘fixing’ women, rather than focusing on what is going on in the

workplace that makes women question their capabilities. I doubt that men and women are

significantly different in their ability to build and maintain confidence in their performance.

Rather I believe there can be specific aspects of workplace systems and structures that may trigger women to doubt themselves. Rather than focusing on the need for women to be changed, I

strongly feel we should focus on changing some of these structural causes. Two particular ones are

Gendered leadership styles

Much has been written about different styles of leadership that men and women may develop.

Prototypical views of leadership tend to be premised on masculine behaviour. Early models of

leadership were aligned to qualities associated with men such as individualist, competitive, assertive

or problem-solving.

On the other hand, traits associated with female leaders include empathy, people-focus, and collaboration. Women have been found to have a more collectivist or communal approach to leading others versus an agentic approach in men which tends to be more independent, robust and self-reliant.

Research has shown that the persistence of male leadership stereotypes in organisations can create difficulties for women and hold them back from leadership promotion. Women can be viewed negatively when they do not conform to them and are viewed as less effective. Such assessments will impact a woman’s self-confidence and willingness to put herself forward for leadership. So, the cause of lack of self-confidence can be created by a dominant leadership style within an organisation which is a mismatch to a particular individual. Whilst this could affect both men and women, it is likely to have a more dominant effect on women.

Lack of role models

An alternative reason why men may have less of a need to question their capabilities or level of

success is that they are able to see plenty of role models who are like them when they look around

the organisation. Due to the lower numbers of female leaders the opposite can happen to women,

and even more so to women of colour.

Positive role models provide us with evidence of goal attainment and successful achievement (see my blog on this topic). Organisations that encourage diversity within the workforce and particularly at leadership level will not only be adopting a fair and equitable approach towards their employees but will also be creating an environment in which women from all backgrounds can feel more confident because they have role models and mentors. This enables women to model their own behaviour and expectations against other successful


Senior female leaders can play an important role in influencing change through allyship that provides support to confidence building in other aspiring women. Allyship and mentoring are

important tools for organisations to use to create a level playing field for women from all

backgrounds to succeed.

If you'd like to find out how coaching sessions could help you to understand your leadership style, or empower you in your career then please get in touch and book your free 30 minute consultation!


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