Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

Pick a Cliche and Revive It

Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

Pick a Cliche and Revive It

Article excerpt

Women haven't tired of hearing about their lack of confidence at work--or, at least, that's what publishers are betting on. And it seems to be paying off. A year after the Facebook executive Sheryl Sandberg's Lean In took over the bestseller lists, two journalists, the BBC News anchor Katty Kay and ABC's senior correspondent Claire Shipman, have published The Confidence Code, which argues that women's timidity is holding them back in the workplace. Already excerpts from the book have been published and it is being discussed far and wide, while Lean In has sold more than 1.6 million copies so far and seems to have spawned almost that many op-eds and blog posts.

The picture Kay and Shipman paint is dire. Women across the spectrum, it seems, hesitate to put themselves up for promotion, ask for pay rises or voice their ideas. Even the most successful apparently suffer from "imposter syndrome", chalking their achievements up to being in the right place at the right time. Indeed, in a recent survey of British managers, half the women--but less than a third of the men--admitted to feeling insecure about their job performance. A study of Hewlett-Packard employees found that women applied for promotion only when they met too per cent of the job requirements, whereas men were comfortable putting themselves up for promotion if they met just 60 per cent of the criteria.

"Underqualified and underprepared men don't think twice about leaning in," say Shipman and Kay. "Overqualified and overprepared, too many women still hold back. Women feel confident only when they are perfect."

Although we can't stop talking about women's lack of confidence, that might not be doing us any favours. The confidence crusaders believe that if they make women aware of the problem they will adjust their behaviour. But in propagating the idea that confidence is a masculine trait, women like Sandberg, Shipman and Kay make self-assured women feel even more like outliers--and perpetuate the very stereotype they want to dismantle. …

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