A Coaching Power Tool By Renae Waneka, Leadership and Business Coach, UNITED STATES
Lack-of-Confidence vs. Courage
Professional women want career growth and opportunities. However, research suggests that a perceived lack of confidence is one factor inhibiting career growth for women (Baker & Bourke, 2022)(Goebig, 2022). The following describes how lack of confidence appears in women, the associated consequences, and how flipping this perspective to one of courage may help women reframe how to advocate for themselves and get more of what they want from work.
The Lack-of-Confidence vs. Courage coaching power tool is based on the coaching principle of reframing perspectives so that clients have a new awareness of their situation.
Lack-of-Confidence vs. Courage Definitions
According to the Oxford Dictionary, confidence is defined as “a feeling of self-assurance arising from one’s appreciation of one’s own abilities or qualities.”Societal systems and structures create scenarios that make it more difficult for women to confidently advocate for and achieve measures of professional success, including promotions and pay raises. When women are confident, it can be frowned upon by others when the same behavior is praised in men. For example, men are more likely than women to ask for a promotion or a raise and receive it (Elsesser, 2016). In the book Women Don’t Ask, men negotiating their first job offer were eight times more likely to negotiate a higher initial salary than women(Babcock, 2007). There is a long history of women being thankful for what they receive rather than being confident and advocating for what they are worth. We can see this in the women’s right-to-vote movement in the United States when women were unable to vote and advocated for and won the right to vote so that their needs and worth would be considered from their point of view.
When professional women act with a lack of confidence, it can often inhibit their career growth. They can become stagnant in the same role or fail to get rewarded for increased contributions. An article in Forbes shares that a vast majority of women struggle with low self-esteem and advocating for themselves at work, resulting in four in five women being held back in their careers by a perceived lack of confidence and visibility (Goebig, 2022). The author of this article claims that there are three myths that contribute to negatively influencing confidence in women: (1) either you are confident, or you aren’t, (2) confidence is the result of success, and (3) only experience can give you confidence. These myths are limiting beliefs that create a barrier for women to showcase their worth by advocating for new and challenging work assignments, asking for (and getting) promotions and raises, and taking charge of their career growth and trajectory rather than tacitly standing by. In my coaching, I often see women who live these myths as truths, which inhibits their ability to launch their business or take on new roles and responsibilities. They have a fear that they will not be successful or will have other types of backlash for trying something new.
While the “confidence gap” between women and men is seen as part of the reason for lower salaries and fewer leadership opportunities for women, an article in The Atlantic shows that women are rarely rewarded for self-promotion at work in the same way as men (Thomson, 2018). Women had to show both confidence and modesty to be rewarded, yet too much confidence made them unlikable, and too much modesty caused them to be overlooked for promotions. The balance between confidence and modesty is a constant struggle for women to be perceived as ready for big work assignments, promotions, and pay raises. Research cited in this Atlantic article claims that women have a fear that being confident will undermine their efforts to advance their careers. The responsibility and burden of fixing this problem is often placed on individual women to conform to male professional norms to be successful, rather than restructuring expectations at work so that self-promotion is a norm for everyone – with the goal of reducing gender biases and the backlash for self-promotion that often occurs when women promote themselves.
In coaching professional women, I have witnessed many talented women struggle with making enough money to support their families while accepting far less for their services than they are worth. These women have established experience and expertise in their fields and range from being self-employed to working at companies large and small. The common theme among them is the fear and lack of confidence in pursuing what they want and think they are worth. One client mentioned that new graduates of the program she attended over 15 years ago are charging the same hourly rate that she is currently charging. She fears that increasing her rate will be negatively perceived as overly confident and selfish and negatively impact her business. Another client asked her supervisor for additional professional development and salary increases after more than ten years with the company and excelling in her roles and neither request was supported. She stayed with the company yet felt undervalued and was unsure whether to continue ties with her current employer or to venture elsewhere where she may be able to gain additional professional development opportunities and higher wages.
Lack of confidence and fear of asking for what you want can stifle a woman’s career. Embracing a confident and courageous approach can be a daunting yet helpful experience for women to reframe their situation and get more of what they want – and deserve – from work.
Courage is defined by the Merriam-Webster dictionary as “the mental or moral strength to venture, persevere, and withstand danger, fear, or difficulty.” Reframing someone’s perspective from one of fear and lack of confidence to courage can help them address how they might move themselves forward given their situation. An article in Forbes shows twenty ways that women can advocate for themselves at work, including being fearless and tenacious, learning how to negotiate, building relationships with decision-makers at all levels, looking for ways to self-advocate, and focusing on what you can control as an individual (Morris, 2023). These strategies provide ways to explore how a professional woman who lacks confidence or is afraid of what might happen if she is confident can get both skills and perspective on her situation so that she leads with courage.
For example, for the client who was reluctant to charge a higher rate for her services, we explored her fear of charging more and found that one of her core values is service and that she felt that charging more would undermine her value of service. When I asked her what it would look like if she maintained her value of service while being courageous enough to ask for a rate she deserved, she had several insights. One insight was her realization that she gives more to others than to herself and that having a way to give to herself is important and often overlooked. She also determined that she could charge a higher rate for most of her clients and have a share of her clients either pro bono or at a reduced rate so that she could give to herself while continuing to align her value of service with her behaviors. Reframing her perspective to one of courage while acknowledging and incorporating her values helped this client move forward.
For the client who stayed with an employer who did not support her professional development or salary expectations, I explored why she was reluctant to look for other work that aligned with her professional development and salary expectations and what courage could look like for her. She felt a large sense of loyalty to her current employer and discovered that a fear of hers was losing relationships with colleagues she had worked with for many years. Once she realized that she could continue to maintain positive and respectful relationships with her current colleagues when in a new position at a different company, she began more actively looking for jobs that aligned with her needs. She became more courageous by applying for jobs that aligned with her needs and expectations and secured a position that allowed her to reach those goals.
Using the Power Tool
When encountering a client who is stuck with fear or lack of confidence, some of the following questions may help a client reframe their perspective to one of courage and confidence.
- What are you scared of in this situation?
- What might happen if you face this fear?
- How can you be fearless and determined in this situation?
- How could being courageous in this situation help you?
- What elements of your most courageous self can you apply to your current situation?
- Which key decision-makers could you build or maintain relationships with to help you get what you want?
- What can you negotiate in this situation?
- What would a trusted mentor tell you to do to help you advance your career?
- What do you have control over in this situation that you could change now?
- How can you apply this courage to situations in the future?
Lack-Of-Confidence vs. Courage Reframing Perspectives
As women navigate gender norms in the workplace, reframing their perspectives from ones of fear and lack of confidence to courage and confidence may help them advocate for themselves at work and make progress toward achieving their professional goals. Using this power tool in coaching can help a coach work with a client to enhance self-awareness and provide clarity around a client’s values and next steps in their careers.
Babcock, L. (2007). Women Don't Ask: The High Cost of Avoiding Negotiation. Bantam.
Baker, D., & Bourke, J. (2022, October 20). Harvard Business Review. Retrieved from hbr.org
Elsesser, K. (2016, September 7). Forbes. Retrieved from forbes.com
Goebig, M. (2022, March 8). Forbes. Retrieved from forbes.com
Morris, K. (2023, April 13). Forbes. Retrieved from forbes.com
Thomson, S. (2018, September 20). The Atlantic. Retrieved from theatlantic.com