The Confidence Gap: Why Women's Doubt Is Bringing Us Down

Women are less self-assured than men, and it's effecting success.

Whenever someone asks me what I do for a job, my way of explaining it is by saying, "oh, well I'm a fake writer." I get a puzzled look and usually have to follow up with the fact that I'm new, young, and still learning how to actually "write", and how I don't know if I take myself seriously enough to call myself a writer. I imagine that if I called myself a "writer" they might think that I think too highly of myself. I'm just one of the many women that have fallen to the perils of self-doubt and insecurity. And, yes, there's science to back it up.

In the U.S. women are now earning more college and graduate degrees than men do. We are slowly closing the gap on middle management positions. We make up half the workforce. And dozens of studies from prestigious researchers at Goldman Sachs and Columbia University have found that companies employing primarily women largely outperform their competitors in profitability.

To put it simply, women are kicking ass, and they have loads to show for it.

And yet, otherstudies show that as women move up in their careers, a man entering a positions at the same time as a woman of similar credentials and ability, seems to move higher up at a faster rate.

But how could that be? Women are kicking ass right now, remember? Well studies also show that this lack of quick progression in their career is closely linked to feelings of doubt and lack of confidence. For example, when a professional project goes wrong, the women closely linked to the project are more likely to blame themselves. But when all goes well, they credit circumstance or other people on the team for their success. What do the men do? Well, they do the exact opposite.

According to, women are more likely than men to be perfectionists, and hold themselves to a higher standard. Women are more likely to hold themselves back from answering a question. Women are a quarter as likely as men to negotiate a raise, and usually women will not ask for a raise, or promotion until they're absolutely 100 percent sure they can predict the outcome. They also won't apply for a job until they fill almost 100 of the qualifications, whereas a man will apply with only 50 percent of the qualifications.

Let's put this all into perspective-- from someone that's already successful. Clara Shih is a tech entrepreneur. She founded the successful social-media company Hearsay Social in 2010 and then joined the board of Starbucks at 29. She is one of the few female CEOs in the main-dominating world of Silicon Valley. But, during an interview the Atlantic she says that as an undergrad at Stanford, she was convinced that courses she found difficult were easy for others.

Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg told the Atlantic a similar story, a year before her book, Lean In, was published:

"There are still days I wake up feeling like a fraud, not sure I should be where I am."

Even the most successful women are convinced they don't deserve their roles, responsibilities, and positions. So they aren't going out there and getting what they deserve.

So how can we make the gap smaller?

Encourage and uplift other women

I had a friend who hadn't spent several years in her job that didn't ask for a raise, a promotion and watched others receive promotions. She kept thinking about asking for a raise, but was too afraid to ask. And sure that might be the case that you are promoted or given a raise without being asked, but most people receive opportunities just by asking. If she wasn't encouraged to reach out, she wouldn't have her new position with even better benefits. That's where women mess up sometimes, we just don't ask!

Work on your personal confidence and know where you are at.

Sometimes we are painfully unaware of our own confidence until someone points it out to us. If you are curious about where you are on your level of confidence, Dr. Richard Petty, Dr. Kenneth DeMarree, and Dr. Pablo Briñol at the Universidad Autónoma de Madrid created {a quiz to measure your confidence]( Understanding where you are can help you to get to the confidence level that you wish to have.

Tell yourself you ARE qualified.

A female mentor of mine once gave me some of the best advice I've ever given. "Comparing yourself to others does nothing for your success. Compare yourself to who you were yesterday. That's all you need to do." Take a look at your work from months or year, see how you've grown in your career. You are probably excelling at your work and you don't even realize it! And it will help you remember how truly qualified you are for that bonus, raise, or promotion!

Fake it until you make it.

Yeah that's right, I went there. It's cliche, but it usually works. If you ever feel a moment of self-doubt or lack of confidence, just decide to fake the confidence. You'll start speaking up more in meetings, and taking on things you were previously too afraid to. Soon, real confidence will emerge and you'll be pretty impressed with yourself.

And lastly, understand that this is a scientific and culturally based problem, that almost all women face. Being able to catch yourself in a moment of self-doubt, and telling yourself, "hey, it's biology and societies fault." can be a HUGE motivator for you.

"I think it's important for women to recognize that it's totally normal for us to feel nervous, particularly in situations in which we're so often the only woman in the room," says Katy Kay, author of The Confidence Code "That realization — for me, anyway — has helped me work to overcome it."