An article appeared recently in the New York Times entitled, Why Women Aren't C.E.O.s According to Women Who Almost Were. The author of the article, Susan Chira, after interviewing many women who found themselves stuck at the number two spot in their organization, concluded the following:
Many women, accomplished as they are, don’t feel the same sense of innate confidence as their male peers. Gerri Elliott, a former senior executive at Juniper Networks (who said she did not personally encounter bias), recounts a story related by a colleague: A presenter asked a group of men and women whether anyone had expertise in breast-feeding. A man raised his hand. He had watched his wife for three months. The women in the crowd, mothers among them, didn’t come forward as experts.
Shelley Diamond rose to chief client officer at Young & Rubicam after running its New York office and leading several key worldwide accounts. Early in her career, she said, “My biggest Achilles’ heel was my own confidence in myself and my ability to accomplish a task that seemed giant and daunting and scary.”
Based on these accounts, one could conclude that for more woment to rise to the top of their organizations, they just need to be more self-confident and express that self-confidence. However, Ms. Chira also learned that women often encounter misogyny.
When women act forcefully, research suggests, men are more likely to react badly. A Lean In/McKinsey & Company survey in 2016 of 132 companies and 34,000 employees found that women who negotiated for promotions were 30 percent more likely than men to be labeled intimidating, bossy or aggressive.
So, what are women to do? Women will encounter misogyny - that is a very unfortunate fact. As a society, we need to call it out when we see and experience it. But, what can each of us do in the meantime? What can women do to develop their best sense of self-confidence?
Katty Kay and Claire Shipman wrote an amazing book, The Confidence Code. The journalists conducted intereviews with top female leaders and researchers to learn why women can struggle with confidence and how best they can build it up. They discovered the key to confidence is authenticity. Authenticity is knowing your values and strengths and leading with those front and center. It is not trying to be like someone else - it is cutting your own path. As Kay and Shipman state in the book, "When confidence emanates from our core, we are at our most powerful."
Being authentic means daring to be different. Kay and Shipman recount a story about a female president of a developing country reducing the number of cars in her motorcade because it was a waste of funds to have more then needed. The previous male president liked the show of having more cars than necessary. She received pushback for reducing the number of cars because of the message it sent - that a woman president was not as important as a male one. Christine Lagarde, the Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund, gave her the following advice:
I told her to dare the difference. Make it your selling point. Don't try to measure yourself, your performance, your popularity, against the standards and the yardsticks and the measurements that men have used before you. Because you start from a different perspective, you have a different platform, you want to push different initiatives and you should be authentic about it.
What is your difference? What makes you unique? How do you express this uniqueness in your personal and professional life? What are your strengths? How do they show up in your leadership? How do you express yourself? (tip - expressing yourself doesn't mean you do the most talking; being an excellent listener is powerful). What do you do when you encounter misogyny? To paraphase Kay and Shipman, our power comes from our core, our uniqueness, our authenticity. How can you be more powerful?