Confidence does not predict success

October 14, 2020 8:52 pm

I cringe every time I hear someone say; women limit their success because they don’t have the confidence or because they underestimate themselves, or don’t value their contributions.  Intuitively I have always thought this was wrong.  Now there is a growing body of science that proves that this is ‘junk thinking’ and the advice to ‘just lean in’, ‘be more confident’ etc. is not helpful and can be harmful. Remember – just because someone famous said it, does not make it scientific.

I frequently hear it from well-meaning people.  Just a couple of weeks ago, I listened to this thinking from a facilitator, who was purporting to help the women entrepreneurs with their businesses.  The facilitator repeatedly cited outdated notions and flawed research to support the incorrect beliefs that ‘if women just had more confidence and would promote themselves they would somehow gain more opportunities and have more success in their businesses’.  The facilitator must have said at least ten times, something to the effect that ‘as women, you underestimate yourselves or you devalue your potential contribution – and this is holding you back’.

Research shows that there are plenty of things that contribute to fewer women in leadership roles, and fewer women entrepreneurs securing funding for their ventures – but lack of confidence is not one of them. Some women do lack confidence – But the science has shown that confidence is not predictive of success or achievement for women.   

Worryingly the science also demonstrates that reminding people of negative stereotypes primes them to perform more poorly.

It is time we stop assuming there is something wrong with women (or anyone else that does not fit the traditional model) that needs fixing and make sure they are afforded equal opportunities and access.

Here is a link to an article in today’s edition of The Conversation, describing some of the recent research in the area.

photo credit:  bbh-singapore on Unsplash

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