Confidence

By Claire Lamont

At Untapped, our business is knowing what makes people tick. And once they’re ticking, then what makes them tick better, tick louder, harder, faster, stronger. You get the idea.

Through our years of work and research, we've identified the seven areas that most affect our tickability, and help us run like clockwork. Pun intended. We'll stop with the ticking metaphor now.

In essence: We have found the areas that most affect your wellbeing and performance. We've fine tuned our AI to understand these areas, and formed our unique support methodology around them. We call them ‘The Untapped Seven.’

We’re going to look at these traits through a series of articles on this blog in the next few months. We’ll feature some rather clever in-depth explorations of each trait in detail, teasing out the intellectual backbone of our approach.

Alongside these we’ll have some shorter thoughts on each trait, arising from the personal experiences, opinions and stories of the Untapped team.

And we’re beginning here with my personal response to the first trait in the Untapped Seven: CONFIDENCE.  


 

The internet implies that confidence is the Twenty-First Century’s holy grail. A quick Google search comes back with reams of articles on how to project confidence, develop the 15 habits of highly confident people, fake it til you make it, or even how skip the tips and eat your way to confidence (lots of fruit, apparently...)

When I think about confidence, as a woman, I think about how hard it can before me to believe in my own abilities. I’ve got a good degree, I’ve successfully run my own business, and I’ve been lucky to work with some amazing Untapped users on their own acceleration paths. And yet, sometimes, I still struggle to feel confident in myself. I let my (male) business partner do most of the talking, I struggle to talk about my achievements and abilities, and to ask for what I want. I’m getting better as I get older, but it’s hard to unplug the part of me that learned, somewhere along the way, that being meek and passive was the way I should be.

I’m not alone in this. Part of this is me, sure; but part of this is the ‘confidence gap’: The difference between men and women’s confidence, culturally shaped by expectations of how each gender ‘should’ be. In 1978, psychologists Pauline Clance and Suzanne Imes published “The Impostor Syndrome.” It laid out the notion that women often feel they don’t deserve their position in working life. This is particularly apparent when they compare themselves with their male colleagues. Women worry about being labelled as ‘bitches’ or ‘bossy’ if they are confident in their opinions; men worry about this significantly less.

Thirty years later, research paints an admittedly improved but still predictably problematic picture. Hewlett Packard found in 2013 that women only apply for a job if they meet 100% of the job spec - whereas men will apply when they meet only 60%. While some research suggests that women’s workplace confidence increases over time, we still have a way to go to reach gender parity. When I have worked with female users at Untapped, this has often been a focus for their acceleration process.

Looking to counter this, books like the famous Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg aim to build a movement around individual female empowerment. According to Sandberg, when we lean in then we assert ourselves, put ourselves forward, take on leadership rather than following or waiting for permission. The idea is that we, as women, should ignore the haters who make comments about our brassiness, and let rip in meetings with the same bombast as some men. If you can’t beat them, join them: Buckle down, dust yourself off, and find your inner confidence.

But the picture is not so simple. I find American historian Linda Gordon’s feminist critique of the Lean In movement interesting. In a recent article she argues that individual growth is vital, but as long as women work in cultures where their confidence is seen negatively - whether overtly or through covert comments/looks - then this is an exceptionally difficult ask. ‘The website acknowledges that leaning-in is often counter-productive, because women get labeled as bitches; lots of people prefer women quiet and submissive. But the only remedy proposed is to grow a thick skin and let the slurs slide off.’ She argues instead for a recognition of the way that women’s behaviours are still judged in our culture.

Laura Guillen, based at ESMT business school in Berlin, makes a similar argument recently in an article for HBR. Her research suggests that women are often as self-confident as men; the difference is that their confidence is not received in the same way. ‘For women, but not for men, influence was closely tied to perceptions of warmth — how caring and prosocial they seemed. Moreover, women’s self-reported confidence did not correlate with how confident these women appeared to others.’

In other words, there is only so much leaning that women can do - the odds are still stacked against us. The research suggests that it is only when organisations become aware of this and build this bias into their plans and internal processes that true change will occur. We’re a way away from that still, but it strikes me that the more individuals, managers and leaders can become aware of how their unconscious biases might be shaping their teams and wider organisations, the faster we’ll travel along a path to greater gender parity.