Bridging the Confidence Gap (Event Highlight)

On Tuesday 23th of March we were joined by Dr Doyin Atewologun, Dr Tunde Okewale MBE and Charlene Brown to discuss whether the under-representation of women in senior roles come from lack of confidence rather than the lack of ability.

We have detailed below snippets from our discussion!  


Do women face a genuine lack of confidence or is it just a reluctance to come across as confident? (in fear of being labelled as arrogant)

Dr Tunde O.

I think socialization plays a big part. Both male and females are socialized about how they should look and how they should behave based on their gender.  And attributes such as assertiveness and confidence have a tendency, as being labelled as male characteristics. And When women go into the workplace and try to be assertive, they are labelled negatively.

And the way that manifests itself is through simple things such as, communication, where women have a tendency of qualifying their communication. ‘Sorry to trouble you, but just wanted to ask this.’ So I think socialization is overlooked and a lot of people look are trying to change the effects and the by-product, but don't really focus enough on socialization and looking at OK, what are you teaching young boys and young girls about who they are, what their identity is, because that actually shapes their confidence as they grow up in terms of what they believe they're capable of doing and what they should be doing.

one of the reasons why women might not feel confident is due to our struggle with perfectionism.

For instance we hold off applying for that job because we (think) we don’t tick all the boxes.

(In your experience) Is it the case that women struggle with perfectionism?

Dr Tunde O.

I think we have to be careful about broad generalization because there's some truth in the generalization, but it's not the rule.  So there are lots of other factors that contribute to whether or not people put themselves forward for particular job roles. There is some intersectionality -  So I think that it's not that straight forward.

Charlene B.

Yeah, I would agree. I think those are the factors that have to be considered when you're looking for a new job or promotion, (and) questioning whether you think you're ready is definitely a factor.

I know people who doubt themselves a lot and don't push themselves or don't realize their full potential. Equally, I know a lot of people who would share today's expletives, in terms of saying ‘why haven't I been considered?’ (Additionally) it's knowing your audience, knowing the type of environment that you're in and the people at the other side of the desk and (then considering) how are you going to navigate that.


"The action of competence comes first, the feelings of competence comes later."

When it comes to confidence can we actually fake it till we make it?

Charlene B.

I think it depends on the circumstances. For instance, if it's an interview - I think you can practice the way in which you want to present yourself, what you want to say, what you want to achieve. You can prepare to be far more streamlined, focused in your meeting, which could give you the appearance of more confidence, but actually, it's just preparation.

People I know do say fake it til you make it, but I think that's quite sad. I think it's sad. Because I think everyone should be confident and (we should be asking) why aren't you proud of who you are. So I think there's a deeper issue there but certainly, if you are focusing on I need to achieve something, how best to do that - Just prepare.

Dr Tunde O.

I think it depends on your definition. For me, it has a slightly different meaning and I think you should fake it till you make it. The reason why I say that is ultimately all of us have long term goals and ambitions to be in different places than we are now. So for you to realize that, you have to be someone that you currently are not at the moment. So that's the reason why I believe in the concept of faking it till you make it, because there are certain qualities and characteristics that I will need,  to be able to be that person that I see myself in the future. And it's repetition of thinking in a particular way and behaving in a particular way that will (help you) become that person.

Dr Doyin A.

Completely understand and agree that preparation is key. 

Some of you may have heard of impostor syndrome, right? It's a thing a lot of people have.  So if you just imagine that we're all kind of carrying a little bit of it. You're not the only one, I'm not the only one who's a little unsure and we all are not as confident as other people might think we are.

So I would say know it, own it, move on - just move on! 

One last thing, (and it depends on the context but) a lot of research shows that there is a separation between like whether you feel you can do it and your ability to actually do it. There is a lot of things we can do, whether you believe you can or not. Be mindful, notice your emotion but still take action!

What is the most critical change that we must implement in order for women to manage their careers more effectively? 

Charlene B.

in terms of what, what can be done. There needs to be way more in place in terms of objective assessments, around performance, objective assessments, around promotion, accelerator programs for everybody. Giving people the right chance.

Dr Tunde O.

the only thing I'll add is long term perspective. So studies have shown there is a causal link between individuals who plan way, (way, way) ahead. And the reason why it's quite important, is that I've always noticed whether it's in the work environment or even in competitive sports, individuals that have a bigger why tend to succeed and win.

From the conversations I've had with lots of young lawyers, people are very short-sighted. And it's always the ones that know where they want to be in 20, 30, 50 years, that are able to position themselves accordingly because they can just work backwards. They can identify whether or not an opportunity is something worth doing, rather than adopting a scattergun approach where you do any and everything and realize this probably wasn't the best thing for me to do.



Dr Doyin A.

I just want to encourage us all to challenge overall statements and just check them. (For example) going back to the salary illustration (Ayo mentioned). Further research shows that when women ask that they actually get turned down more often than men do. So it's not that women aren't asking, that's not the full story, but when women do ask, they don't get compared to their male counterparts

Going back to the phenomenon around the double bind. That is true, but it's actually more true for white women. So again, the research that looks at different types of women actually suggests that broadly speaking, it is white women who suffer more from having to deal with this. I'm too soft and too sweet, too strong and too sweet because black women have to deal with the overly aggressive stereotype.

So actually black women are allowed to be more aggressive. Of course there are repercussions. So I'm not saying that's a good thing.  I'm saying that the thing around being perceived as not confident is more linked to white women than black woman. And then the inverse happens with Asian women because Asian women are stereotyped as humble, modest week, so they're allowed to be soft and sweet.

So I, you know, as we're thinking about this, let's think about what type of woman, what are the stereotypes, what's the evidence for it? But yes, let us all have the conversation around what is confidence, what does it really look like and (are we) going to accept these overall statements as that or are we going to kind of interrogate and challenged them more?

Host (Ayo Elizabeth).

So are we saying it's more cultural than psychological? 

Dr Doyin A.

I say it is cultural, but when I say culture, I don't mean our traditional ethnic culture. I mean it is social. I mean it is what society has accepted or defined or described. So let us not buy into the hype that we're less confident, full stop.