A culture that judges self-confidence makes it tough for women… and for everybody.
Hey, I’m obviously not a woman… But I do have a feminine side (sometimes). They say it is my better side.
This issue peeves me off, so I had to get it off my chest and write about it.
I have a friend who works in corporate finance. It’s a bit of a boys’ club, but she’s done well for herself. She’s a formidable deal-maker and she knows her stuff.
We were talking about pay gaps and why there still weren’t many female CEOs and that sort of thing. In her view, the corporate culture is still a bit ‘blokey’, but by the time we talking about promotions, it’s way too late.
It’s a cultural thing and it runs pretty deep.
“Let me give you an example,” she says. “Ask a man and a woman if they are a ‘good cook’. They both give you a firm ‘yes’. What does that tell you?”
“In the case of the man, it means he can boil and egg and knows how the toaster works. In the case of the woman, it probably means she’s one of the top 5 chefs in Australia.”
“Men are ok with projecting confidence. It’s celebrated.”
“Women aren’t good at selling themselves, and that’s holding them back. I’ve been on interview panels where a woman totally owns the job on paper. All we need to hear from her is a firm ‘yes’ she can do it. We’ve got a problem and we need confidence in the solution – we need confidence in her.”
“But we get all these qualifications – all these qualified yes’s. ‘If I have the right team, if it’s my particular area of expertise, then yes, I can probably do it.”
“And then we get some bloke with half the qualifications come in and say, ‘I totally own this job. I’m going to deliver results that will make your head spin. There’s no conceivable way I can fail.’”
“And I’ve seen what it does to interview panels. They like the woman on paper, but that guy selling guaranteed solutions speaks directly to the problem at hand. There’s still doubts about whether she can deliver, whereas they totally buy his sales pitch on himself.”
“Confidence is contagious.”
“And so 9 times out of 10, confidence guy gets the job. And in my line of work, confidence goes a long way. It can be pretty cut-throat.”
“So I don’t think corporate culture is overtly sexist. No one’s saying, I prefer candidate X because he has a penis.”
“To me it comes back to the way we bring our kids up.”
“Boys get Jack and the bean-stalk – a thief and giant killer who turns outrageous self-confidence into personal riches. Girls get Cinderella or the Princess and the Pea – delicate flowers who know when to shut up.”
“Boys are taught self-confidence. Girls are taught there’s nothing worse than vanity and thinking highly of yourself.”
“This mindset is a glass ceiling and it’s just as limiting as any boys club mentality.”
What do you think? Interesting stuff, right? I’ve never been a woman, so I don’t have much to say about sexism in the workplace.
But I do know that a self-depreciating mindset can be a liability.
And the difference between men and women that my friend describes could easily apply to the difference between American and Australian culture, say.
Americans are self-confident by culture. They don’t have a word for ‘tall-poppy’ syndrome.
Australians celebrate success, but not if it comes with being up your self, or even if it comes with a perception that you’re trying too hard.
I kinda feel sorry for our sports stars. Like our tennis players or cricketers. Professional support demands an iron-clad self confidence, and a ruthless competitive spirit.
Without these, you’ll never rise through the ranks to the top of your sport, and you’ll never succeed at an international level.
But we don’t like these thing in Australia. And if we see them come out in our sports stars, then we’re quick to judge them.
Humility and sportsmanship, that’s what made this country great.
And those are great values, but we can’t also demand a perfect win/loss record from them at the same time. Not in the modern age.
The Australian ideal seems to be to have a rock-solid inner confidence, while projecting a humble, self-depreciating face to the world.
This sounds nice, right? But it’s an incredibly difficult position to hold.
Because the inner and outer worlds are connected. One is a reflection of the other.
To be confident in the world, we need to have confidence in ourselves. If we move confidently in the world, our confidence in ourselves builds. Causation runs both ways, but it definitely runs.
If we talk ourselves down, under-sell ourselves, then that will start to drain our self-confidence. As we lose self-confidence, our performance in the world deteriorates.
So I’m just not sure that acrobatic feat is possible.
I just don’t think we can not be projecting confidence, while feeling innerly confident at the same time.
But this is what we ask our sports stars, and our women.
And if it’s one thing I’m sure of, it’s that self-confidence is one of the keys to success.
And so long as we’re demanding and morally enforcing a self-depreciating humility, we are making the road to success incredibly difficult.
Striving for success in Australia we need to be switched on to this. It’s a mill-stone around the neck.
And part of the challenge is learning how to accept a bit of social judgment in exchange for true self-confidence.
Do you care about what other people think? Or do you care about your own success?
Trust me on this. I’m awesome.