Even though companies and many organizations have invested to significantly increase the number of women holding corporate board seats and executive office positions, managing that change has not happened. Reports continue to show very little improvement. The search for a solution to this puzzle goes on.

The Atlantic Monthly cover story for May 2014, “Closing the Confidence Gap”, provides a perspective and data that is worthy of attention.

Authors Katty Kay and Claire Shipman detail and validate a compelling scenario that many of us have experienced working with women and/or being a professional woman. Kay is an anchor for BBC World News America and Shipman is a reporter for ABC news. They have also published a second book:  The Confidence Code: The Science and Art of Self-Assurance—What Women Should Know.

Impact of Confidence

Giving examples across the spectrum of performance—sports, technology, academia, business, etc.— the authors discuss the phenomenon that men routinely overestimate their abilities and performance while women underestimate both. When the quality of the actual performance for those in the studies is evaluated, the performance of the men and women does not differ.

Here are ways that this difference in confidence plays out:

• Girls and women turn down opportunities unless they are certain that they can be successful.

•  Boys and men are much more likely to pursue an opportunity, even if they are only 60% confident of knowing what to do.

•  Professionally, women ask less often for promotions and increases in compensation than men.

•  Although men express doubts about themselves, their doubts stop them less often than women’s.

•  Confidence shows up as more important than competence in determining who rises to the top.

Action is what counts!

Studies make a connection between confidence and action: The more confidence people have, the more actions they take. Low confidence results in inaction. Taking more actions increases the probability of being successful which increases confidence. In studies where women were directly told to at least try (take action that they were not planning to take), their performance was the same as the men’s.

When women increased their attempts at performing, their effectiveness increased. Ability does not seem to be the critical factor in women closing the gender gap in pay, opportunity, promotions, etc. It seems to be that increasing the times when one chooses to try, even if there is failure, is what matters.

We can make this happen!

Looking at the data on the gender gap and how it shows up in the world and how pervasive and persistent it has been, one wonders if a significant change and shift are possible. Neuroscientists and their work on brain plasticity make the case that this kind of shift can be achieved.

And, we have to try managing this change, right?

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