In 2014, the Utah Women & Leadership Project (UWLP) team collected data from various sources to understand some of the issues in Utah regarding women, confidence, and leadership. The full set of results was published in a February 2015 research and policy brief titled, “Women, Confidence, and Leadership: What Do Utah Women Leaders Think?” In this blog we highlight the results from the third of five research questions analyzed: “What confidence concepts or findings most deeply resonate with you? Why?” Data for this question were gathered from table dialogues held at a UWLP event and an online survey. Here is a summary of the results that Dr. Susan R. Madsen wrote and published on this question:
One of the questions asked at the table dialogues after our UWLP event was, “What confidence concepts or findings most deeply resonated with you? Why?” The question also appeared on the follow-up survey. In combining both data sources, the following is a summary (in rank order of the most commonly mentioned) of the nine concepts attendees felt were most helpful and empowering for them to consider. These can be useful in designing future confidence and leadership programs and initiatives:
- Confidence and Related Terms. “Acting” and “doing” build confidence. We need to “act” to make a difference and to be effective leaders. Understanding the differences and relationships among confidence, self-esteem, self-compassion, optimism, and self-efficacy is critical. It helps us pinpoint where we have confidence and where we can make specific improvements (e.g., deflecting praise, reluctance to acknowledge one’s strengths, clinging to past failures, negotiating pay, not pursuing opportunities, and seeking approval). People need to hear the truth to develop true confidence.
- Gender Confidence Gap. Understanding gender differences with confidence is very helpful. Concepts of particular interest were the biological differences between men and women (e.g., brain and hormones), how women think and reason through success and failure, how they end declarative statements as if they were questions (i.e., upspeak), and how men blame external influences for failure and women blame themselves.
- Perfectionism. Understanding the dark side of perfectionism for women was powerful; perfectionism is a confidence killer. It keeps us from taking risks, making decisions, moving forward, and gaining confidence overall.
- Failure. It is okay to fail; failing actually allows us to learn and grow, and we should not be afraid of it. The more we gain confidence and “act,” the more times we may fail. The statement “you can fail and not be a failure” is one we will use for years to come.
- Mentors and Role Models. Mentors and role models (e.g., parents, church leaders, school counselors and teachers, and relatives) can have a major impact in the lives of girls and women. These individuals can encourage, support, build, and strengthen girls to help them become leaders.
- Speaking Up. It is important that women speak up more in meetings and other situations that are typically dominated by men. Even though not speaking is a natural reaction for most women, we need to understand why, do it anyway, and teach others to do the same.
- Communication Habits. It is important to understand the differences between men and women in terms of communication habits. This includes what women say to other women; Utah women can be judgmental and hurtful to each other. The other concepts like deflecting praise and a woman’s struggle with accepting compliments ring true.
- Rumination. Women spend far too much time overthinking or ruminating. We dwell on problems rather than solutions and focus too much on why we did certain things, how poorly we did them, and what everyone else was thinking about it. Rumination can freeze decision making and action, and it drains confidence. Learning that ruminating is a confidence-defeating habit can help us recognize this is a mindset that we can and need to change.
- Confidence Is a Choice. A great deal of building confidence is simply a matter of changing one’s assumptions and perspectives. Confidence is a choice, and, therefore, lack of confidence is also a choice. Seeing confidence as a matter of choice removes it from the passive arenas of genetics, upbringing, and socialization. Our thoughts create neural pathways in our brains. We can change our brains in ways that will affect our thoughts and behavior. This knowledge helps us to reflect on the choices we are making and set goals to make choices that will increase our confidence, sphere of influence, and leadership aptitudes.
The overall takeaways from this section of our research include Utah women leaders’ thoughts about both internal and external barriers surrounding women, confidence, and leadership.
The text of this blog was excerpted from a February 2015 research and policy brief authored by Dr. Susan R. Madsen titled, “Women, Confidence, and Leadership: What Do Utah Women Leaders Think?” (Please see the entire brief for more information on research context and methodology.)