Is it stereotyping to suggest that women are less confident than men in the workplace? Does this explain the glass ceiling or is it a chicken and egg debate about the serious lack of women’s proportional representation in senior positions of power? And my question – Is there a relationship between this general issue and the manifestation of confidence in public speaking? Two recent books bring research, data, insight and experience to light.
The first, The Confidence Code, by Katty Kay and Claire Shipman offers a wealth of neuroscience research and a slew of anecdotal and personal accounts. The first big takeaway for me was the conversations with prominent and powerful women in business, politics and professional sports who candidly admitted to serious crises of confidence. I didn’t want to draw comfort from that data, but I am always reassured when people speak the truth (well, at least a truth that I can relate to).
Studies showed that in the confidence/competence balance, it appears that while equally competent (and with IQ parity), women rate themselves as less competent then men rate themselves. The authors consider whether the demons of over-thinking, perfectionism and nose-to-the-grindstone behavior interfere with women’s ability to parlay their competency more powerfully. Is confidence the missing link?
The neurological findings they share affirm that genetic differences and brain make-up can and do affect the confidence equation. From the amount of serotonin produced in the brain (women produce 52% less than men) to the huge discovery of brain plasticity (we can carve new pathways!) to the fascinating field of epigenetics (external forces can change genes!) this book offers thousands of lenses to consider in the confidence conundrum. What I offer here, other than a recommendation to read the book, are the takeaways that stuck for me:
WOMEN RUMINATE Interestingly, women use the bilateral use of their brains more than men – this is more connectivity and up to 30% more activity (firing neurons) then men’s brains. This activity, they write, correlates with strong collaboration, self-control AND overthinking and rumination. The authors define confidence as “the stuff that turns thoughts into action.” Rumination is a huge derailer of confidence and action. Women engage in it way more than men! And if that isn’t enough, there is a part of the brain called the Cingulate Gyrus, known as the worrywart center. Take a wild guess at whose is larger! Evolution has conspired to encourage rumination.
PERFECTIONISM: THE “ENEMY OF GOOD” The book has an interesting take on the nurture side of this equation. Something along the lines of how girls outperform boys categorically during school years, and if the world were like school, women would be running it. The authors surface issues of how perfectionism inhibits achievement and undercuts resiliency. They write that women “internalize” failure as a personal flaw whereas men tend to “externalize” it and not relate it to their abilities. Interesting – and generally true in my own experience. They quote the “Life is like Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers” analogy which I loved so much that I had to track down the original source for your viewing pleasure.
WOMEN, MEN AND PUBLIC SPEAKING Natural confidence is a huge part of the public speaking calculus. From my own unscientific polling (with a 70%/30% men/women client ratio) I would say that women and men display equal concern about nerves and anxiety, the great confidence derailer. A difference that generally holds true would be that I spend more time with women in conversation and analysis to understand and overview their presentation and alignment with all the moving parts. Men, generally, want to move into the action, the practice as their pathway to preparation and performance. Or as my favorite Recruiting Consultant, Margaret Dietz said, “ Remember Charlotte, women want to understand, men want to solve.”
I so appreciated the research, transparency, curiosity and validation I experienced reading this book. I commend the authors with the highest praise, which is to say, put The Confidence Code on your nightstand.
Next, From Rumination to Action : Commit To Confidence by Barbara Roche, a practical, step-by-step resource to help women step up and stand out.