If you've ever gotten the feeling that men, in general, are more confident than women, there's a scientific explanation why.
According to experts, there is actually a part of the brain (the anterior cingulate cortex), that creates more self-doubt in women than in men.
Workplace wellness expert Michelle McQuaid can help women retrain this part of the brain in 11 minutes-- and she claims it's a career changer.
I had the opportunity to ask Michelle.
Faten Abdallah (FA): What does "Confidence" mean?
Michelle McQuaid (MM): Researchers define confidence as the ability to turn our thoughts into action. It’s what allows you to start acting and risking and failing, and to stop mumbling and apologizing and hesitating. With it you can take on the world, but without it you remain stuck on the starting block of your own potential.
FA: Is confidence something you can work towards or is it naturally in a person? How does one build confidence?
MM: Studies suggest that confidence is shaped by the way our brains function, the experiences we've had and perhaps most importantly the choices we prioritize. This means that while some of us may feel more naturally confident than others, there are choices we can make and behaviors we can practice that will improve our confidence over time. It appears that confidence can be built by:
- Being authentic
- Challenging self-doubt when it doesn't serve as well
- Taking action and stepping outside our comfort zone with a willingness to learn from both success and failure
FA: Is it true that men are more confident than women? Can you explain?
Studies suggest men are more confident than women. For example when it comes to our careers we know women ask for pay rises four times less frequently than their male colleagues, negotiate salaries of 30% less and won't put themselves forward for promotions unless they meet 100% of the qualifications necessary for a job (while a man will be feel confident enough to apply with 60% of the qualifications).
Researchers put this down to a couple of factors. For example:
- Our Biology - It appears the the female brain is wired to worry more about making mistakes, to avoid conflicts and ruminate over and over about what might go wrong. Not only do women have 30% more neurons firing at any one time which can lead them to overthink things, but the cingulate gryus - the brain’s “worry wart”- is larger making women much better at recognizing their mistakes and prone to ruminate on them. Add to this the higher levels of estrogen and lower levels of testosterone coursing through women's veins, and it’s no wonder their prone to avoiding conflict and risk even at the cost of winning.
- Our Social Experiences - School is where many girls are first rewarded for being good and doing things the "right way": by quietly figuring things out and finding the perfect answer whilst not making a fuss or being challenging in any way. The result is women often learn early on in life to avoid taking risks or making mistakes, while boys (for whom one study found got eight times more criticism for their conduct) learn that a little scolding or failure can be taken in stride. Perhaps as a result during the teenage years when girls are six times more likely to drop out of team sports, boys keep playing learning to own victory and survive defeat with some studies suggesting there is a direct link between playing sports in high-school and earning a bigger salary. It appears to be a vicious social cycle: girls lose confidence, so they quit competing, thus depriving themselves of ways to regain it. As a result girls walk away believing competence matters more than confidence, but as the studies show at work this is often not the case.
FA: How can women build more confidence in the workplace?
- Be authentic. best-selling authors of The Confidence Code, Katty Kay and Claire Shipman, suggest the linchpin choice when it comes to confidence may be authenticity. By making a virtue out of our differences instead of trying to hide, erase or change them, we allow confidence to emanate from our core.
- Think less. Note down the stories you’re telling that undermine your confidence and ask: “Is this true? Is this the only explanation for what’s unfolding?” Try to capture as many plausible alternatives as possible and invest your attention on the explanations that build, rather than destroy your confidence.
- Take one small step. Acknowledge your self-doubt and then take a small step outside your comfort zone anyway. Start with small challenges that allow you to grow, improve and gain confidence. If you fail, think about how you can do it differently next time and try again. If you succeed, set yourself the next challenge and keep stretching yourself forward again and again.
- Focus on how you’re helping others. Women tend to do much better when they focus on the meaning and purpose behind the actions they’re taking and how this will benefit others. How will the small step you want to take make someone’s day a little better or easier because you had the courage to act with confidence?
- Practice self-compassion. Don’t let that “mean girl” voice run wild in your head. Instead talk to yourself like you would to any other friend and be willing to look at your mistakes and short-comings with kindness and understanding. Acknowledge that you’re “not there yet” but that as long as you stay open to learning and willing to practice, you will get better.
FA: Anything else you would like to add?
MM: One of the most effective ways I've found to help female leaders close the confident gap by feeling more authentic and taking action is to show them how to discover their strengths (the things they're good at and enjoy doing) and find small-busy proof ways to confidently use them to take action each day. You can try this for yourself at www.
strengthschallenge.com which is a free resource to help people feel more confident, energized and happy at work.