It’s a fact: Women have lower confidence and self-esteem in the workplace than men. As a professional, high-achieving woman, how can you to fight against the status quo and ensure that fear of public speaking, presenting, networking and boardroom debate doesn’t curb your potential?
It’s not feminism, it’s fact
Gender inequality in the workplace tends to focus on pay disparity, lack of female executives and on the difficulty of recruiting women into male-dominated professions such as engineering and aviation. It can sometimes be a challenge to acknowledge and tackle these inequalities in a constructive way without pushing a hardened feminist agenda. However, simply saying that these disparities are wrong, or jumping to the conclusion that these inequalities are man-made (literally) would be to ignore the complex nuances of the professional gender inequality conundrum. As this article will explore, women themselves are actually sometimes better able to help redress the balance than they might think.
The confidence recession.
I can’t claim to have all the answers for the myriad of complex psychological, physiological and sociological reasons for workplace gender inequalities. However, what is most fascinating to me (as an elocution and confidence coach) about gender inequality in the workplace is that many professional women – particularly those who are at the mid-to-late point in their careers – suffer from a chronic lack of confidence. This in turn affects their workplace ambitions and achievements and ultimately their promotion prospects and pay.
A 2014 US study found that men and women were often equal in their professional ambitions at the start of their career. However, as their careers progress, women suffered a 60% decrease in ambition and a 50% decrease in confidence to reach top management while men reported no change in their aspiration and only a 10% decrease in their confidence to reach the top jobs.
It’s a global thing.
Elsewhere, a ten year global study by Wiebke Bleidorn, PhD, from the University of California, found that men had higher levels of self-esteem in every adult age group when compared to their female counterparts.
Bleidorn and her researchers analysed more than 985,000 subjects across 48 countries. One of the most fascinating aspects of their findings was that while men were found to be universally more self-confident that women, the gap between men’s and women’s self-esteem was far higher in industrialised western societies, such as the UK, than it was in poorer, developing nations such as Thailand and Indonesia.
Interestingly, Bleidorn hypothesised that one of the reasons that this self-esteem gap was more pronounced in egalitarian societies, was that women in these countries were far more likely to compare themselves to men with higher-status positions and higher salaries. In poorer countries, women were more likely to compare themselves to other women, and were therefore less likely to feel such a profound sense of underachievement.
As a professional voice coach, I have noticed this confidence gap through my own work. Whilst I tutor both men and women through their problems and insecurities about presenting and articulation, it is often my female clients who struggle most with unfounded and irrational fear when it comes to public speaking, often to the detriment of their own career progression.
How to bridge the gap.
If you are a woman working in a professional environment who feels that you might not be fulfilling your potential or that you might be suffering from lower than average self-esteem, one of the first actions I would urge you to take is to look at your own confidence in the workplace.
Do you shy away pushing your ideas forward even though you are convinced that you are right? Do you actively avoid situations where you might be forced to stand and defend your ideas in public? Do you dread public speaking and networking events? Do you feel that you are being judged more critically by colleagues than your male counterparts, or do you feel you have to work harder to get your voice heard?
If the answer to any of the above is ‘yes’ then I would urge you to consider the fact that – rather than simply assuming that your workplace woes are purely down to gender bias – the fault might lie, at least in part, in your own self-confidence and your own ability to fight for your beliefs.
Take control of your situation.
As with many of life’s problems, an acknowledgement of an issue and a decision to try and do something about it is often a battle half won. If you feel that your workplace self-confidence might be lower than it should be, admitting this to yourself and resolving to address it could be exactly the step you need to take in order to help prevent it from impacting on your longer-term potential.
If you are crippled by nerves at the thought of addressing colleagues in the boardroom, or have sleepless nights before standing on a stage and presenting to a room full of industry peers; if you can argue a case perfectly on paper or in your head but crumble the minute you are forced to defend it in person; if you feel that you are gradually being overtaken at work by colleagues whose abilities are equal to or less than your own, then now might be the time to assess whether ‘you’ are actually one of the main factors holding you back.
Channel your nerves.
Nerves and self-doubt are completely natural; we all suffer from them to a degree, and they are not inherently worrisome. However, when they are detrimentally affecting our work and our ability to communicate effectively and confidently, this is when they can become a problem. Learning how to channel nerves and insecurities into something positive; learning how to control your breathing and practising relaxation techniques before a presentation; learning how to project your voice in the boardroom so that you sound authoritative and in control; learning how to use body language and eye contact to deliver an authentic and enjoyable performance; these are all skills that we can learn, practice and improve upon to become – externally at least - more confident, more articulate and better able to command the respect and esteem of our colleagues.
Workshops for women.
I have been so inspired by the amazing high-achieving women that I have worked with over the past few years and equally, so concerned by the entirely unjustified lack of confidence that I have witnessed in many of my female clients, that I have decide to create a series of women’s only confidence workshops to tackle the issue head on.
I have joined forces with psychological trainer Kate Patterson from the Thrive Programme (www.katepatterson.co.uk) to create a relaxed, fun and unintimidating one-day workshop aimed at addressing exactly the problems discussed in this article; namely that low self-confidence and poor self-esteem are critical factors in limiting women’s long-term career prospects.
During the workshop, Kate will explain the psychology behind why we find various professional and social situations ‘difficult’, and provide tips and skills to help you break down negative mental barriers and improve your social confidence.
I will then talk you through the more practical aspects of public speaking, workplace interaction and presenting, and teach you tools and tricks which will allow you to channel nerves, control breathing, strengthen your articulation, and maximise your body language and eye contact to deliver a commanding and authoritative performance.
Our current workshop takes place at The Cambridge Belfry on the 8th July 2017 from 10am to 2pm. Lunch is included. For more information or to book your place, visit www.cambridgeshireelocution.com/workshops.
We hope to see you there!