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Closing the confidence gap

March 30, 2014

"When we aren't confident, we don't succeed as we should." - Katty Kay and Claire Shipman in The Confidence Code

Barbara Lynch is that rare thing: a woman running a professional kitchen. Actually she's running not one but several, all in Boston, and she also owns a hospitality group that brings in $20 million a year. Lynch, now 50, initially learned the ropes under the hard-knocks tutelage of irascible restaurateur Todd English. According to the New York Times Magazine piece about Lynch and her push to promote more female chefs, she's won three James Beard awards (Beard was a famous US chef and food writer). She's nominated for Outstanding Restaurateur, and if she won she'd be just the second woman to do so. And yet a telling detail about Lynch appears further down in the piece, as she discusses her recent appearance on TV: "I"m still not that confident in myself."

Confidence, or the lack of it, is one of the greatest impediments to women's success. It's why I started The Broad Experience, and it's something I've touched on in various shows. The reasons women aren't a larger presence in public life - or in more top roles at work - don't simply come down to childcare. One vast, towering reason is this: we lack the self-belief that comes naturally to men.

I've been wanting to do a show on confidence for ages, and I hope to finally bring that off within the next couple of months. Two nights ago I stayed up reading The Confidence Code: The Art and Science of Self-Assurance--What Women Should Know. It's the new book by journalists Katty Kay and Claire Shipman, who co-wrote Womenomics several years ago. I was so hyped up after the introduction and first chapter I had trouble getting to sleep. Hyped up because everything they write about - and back up with research - rings bells for me. They deftly encapsulate this nagging issue that runs beneath many women's lives. Lack of confidence has been a key problem for me over the years. I want to remedy the situation, but decades of self-doubt don't evaporate easily.

I've seen men I work with exude confidence, and I've seen the effect it's had on their lives. People who appear confident, as Kay and Shipman write in the book, are "awarded high social status" by those around them. They get promoted. And those people don't even have to be competent. It's all about their aura of self-assurance.

I was fascinated to read about the work habits of Christine Lagarde, head of the International Monetary Fund, and German chancellor Angela Merkel. Apparently both women over-prepare on work matters in order to be absolutely sure they're dotting every 'i' and crossing every 't' - they want to be certain no one else can trip them up. Lagarde told Kay and Shipman that she and Merkel somehow assume "that we don't have the level of expertise to grasp the whole thing." How familiar that sounds. But it's coming not from me or one of my friends but from one of the most prominent professional women in the world. (For a great audio interview with Lagarde, listen to this recent NPR piece.)

I'm eagerly anticipating the rest of the book, and I'm keen to interview Kay and Shipman for The Broad Experience.

I received a press copy of the book, which is published on April 15th. You can attend a May webinar hosted by Kay and Shipman if you pre-order a copy from The Confidence Code website


Punished for negotiating?

March 14, 2014

One of the themes I keep coming back to in life and in my work as a journalist is women and negotiation. I find negotiating for more money quite uncomfortable, and so do nearly all my friends. I recommend the book Ask For It to any woman who will listen. So I was fascinated to read this piece on the website Inside Higher Ed about a recent (female) PhD graduate who tried to negotiate a job offer at Nazareth College in upstate New York. The college didn’t want to negotiate. And it went one step further – it rescinded the offer altogether.

Linda Babcock, co-author of Ask For It

Here’s a quick summation of the story (I strongly urge you to read the whole piece on Inside Higher Ed). The woman, who is anonymous, wrote to the college, beginning with the line, “As you know, I am very enthusiastic about the possibility of coming to Nazareth. Granting some of the following provisions would make my decision easier." She then went on to list them. They included an increase in her starting salary (to $65,000) and maternity leave, among others. She ended the email with, “I know that some of these might be easier to grant than others. Let me know what you think.”

The college wrote back saying it thought she was better suited to a research university, and added it was withdrawing its job offer.

The piece has been picked up by multiple blogs and sites including Jezebel (where as you might expect, large helpings of snark are added). But Jezebel makes a good point: this is the exact reaction women fear when they negotiate, or even think about negotiating, and it's why a lot of women don't negotiate at all. Would this same thing have happened to a man?

I just called Linda Babcock to talk about this. Linda is the co-author, with Sara Laschever, of Ask For It. Unless you consider yourself a brilliant negotiator, you should order a copy now – it truly will change your way of thinking about this stuff. She is also an economics professor at the Heinz School at Carnegie Mellon Unvieristy in Pittsburgh, and the author of several much-cited studies on women, men, and negotiation. 

“I hate it when my research is right,” she told me. She knows from her work that women receive backlash when they try to negotiate, particularly if they negotiate in an up-front way, as this newly minted academic did. Hiring managers do not like it when a woman comes across as demanding. That behavior flouts expectations of how women are meant to conduct themselves, and can elicit strong negative reactions.

“We can’t prove it wouldn't have happened to a man, but it’s just awfully suspect,” says Linda.

But a listener of mine, a female academic who doesn't want her name used, thinks differently.

“I don't think that was a clear case of sexism,” she says. “I would never try to do that kind of negotiation in e-mail, as when done that way, it looks like a huge list of demands.” She also thought the list of requests showed a mismatch between the candidate's expectations and the reality of academic life. 

“I also think [the requests] probably really rubbed the department the wrong way," she goes on, "because most faculty who have been teaching for a while would have done so without any of those benefits, they may already be feeling like the new hire is being brought in way above their own salaries (at that stage in their careers), and it can breed immediate resentment.” That said, this listener adds that she feels the hiring committee’s response was “completely inappropriate”.

Linda Babcock says even if the faculty at Nazareth College regarded this woman’s requests as over-the-top, couldn’t they have called her to disucss them rather than withdraw the job offer? My two cents: I believe the woman made a mistake in not calling the college to talk over the offer, and sending an email instead, because the email certainly reads as rather abrupt. Linda agrees. “We want women to use a very relational, friendly approach, and it’s hard to do that in an email. The email comes off as very cold, direct, impersonal, and that is not the way people like women to negotiate." 

All the research shows women have to be extremely careful in the way they ask for more. Societal expectations are that women are ‘nice', accommodating creatures. People - men and women - don’t like it when we act any other way. This may be a case where a female candidate came across as too uppity for the faculty's liking, and was punished for it.

Feel free to share your thoughts on this below. Do you think a man writing such a blunt email would have been rejected in the same way?  


How to be a successful giver

February 14, 2014

Adam GrantLast year I read a New York Times Magazine piece about a young professor at Wharton called Adam Grant. He was 31 and an academic star. The title of the piece was Is Giving the Secret to Getting Ahead? I devoured it, enjoyed it, but shortly thereafter moved on and forgot about it. Until just now, when I listened to a compelling Grant talk about his research into giving. This was during another of the 85 Broads webinars I regularly log into. Below I outline his suggestions for becoming 'a successful giver', someone who is happy to help others and does better in their career as a result.

For his book Give and Take Grant wanted to research his hunch that something extra was involved in success - something in addition to things like hard work, talent, and luck. He contends successful people are more likely than others to be 'givers'.

I think for women in particular the topic of giving can be complicated. As a sex, we're expected to be kind and generous. Some of us embrace that role wholeheartedly, extending ourselves to everyone we meet to the extent that we become exhausted. More on this - and why it's a bad strategy - later.

Grant divides people's 'reciprocity style' into three types: givers, takers, and matchers. Givers are the ones who are going to show up early or stay late to help someone out. They will willingly share their knowledge with others. Takers, he says, "never want to give, only take", and we associate them with "free riding, social loafing" and leaving the grunt work to someone else. Matchers are obsessed with fairness. "They go around treating their relationships like accountants manage money, so that everything zeros out and matches up evenly."

During his research (which involved both original research and combing through others' work) Grant found that ultimately, givers were most successful at work. You might think being a matcher is the best type to be: everything fair and square. And as for givers, don't we all know someone who is so helpful they never get anything done themselves? Yet, Grant says, "Givers add more value to organizations – research on this is very strong."

One of the organizations Grant looked at was a sales firm. Givers brought in 68% more in sales volume than anyone else. But here's an interesting thing: at first, givers don't do well (he looked at this in three different work contexts). Their generosity does seem to hold them back in some ways, presumably because they're spending 'too' much time helping others rather than doing their own work, and in the case of sales, because they refuse to flog rubbish products. But over time, because of the way they relate to others, givers win out.

How to be a successful giver:

  • First, being an 'unsuccessful giver' means trying to help all of the people all of the time. You're always devoting yourself to others and you make yourself "vulnerable to exploitation by takers".
  • "Being a successful giver means being helpful while not sacrificing your own goals," says Grant. "They are careful about who, when and how much they help." Givers will act less generously with the greedy person, the taker, knowing that person isn't likely to reciprocate or even appreciate their efforts. Also, Grant says, successful givers prioritize helping certain people - people they know they have things in common with and are likely to be truly able to help (listen to show #26 - Get Ahead, No Guilt - to hear the Financial Times' Mrs. Moneypenny on this topic).
  • Grant himself helps people in this order: family, students, colleagues, everyone else. He prioritizes by using this lineup, i.e., if a student asks him for something he considers, 'Will this affect my time with/relationship with my family?' If not, he helps out. And so on.
  • He says successful givers "also differ in when they help – they're not willing to drop everything." They will set aside windows of time to help others and spend the rest of the time on their own work. Some argue this is selfish (again, see Mrs. Moneypenny) but the airplane analogy works here: put on your own oxygen mask before helping the person next to you. Those who spend too much time giving "are at risk of burnout and underperforming."
  • "Givers who focus on themselves as well as others, because they sustain their energy and effectiveness, they are able to give more."
  • Grant advocates 'chunking' your giving rather than 'sprinkling' it over the course of a day. He says if you devote a particular day or part of a day to helping people out, you get "a significant boost in energy and happiness." When you 'sprinkle' your giving, there's no noticeable difference in the way you feel (thus you're less likely to keep it up - at least that's my conclusion).
  • "Another mistake failed givers make is they confuse giving with being nice. Agreeableness is the tendency to be warm, friendly, welcoming," but, he says, we're too apt to take those characteristics at face value when we shouldn't. And, conversely, to undervalue what he calls "disagreeable givers". These are "the people you’d describe as prickly, sometimes a bit too blunt, maybe they give blunt feedback, but they do so with others’ best interests at heart."

In short, it is wonderful to be able to help others - it gives you a warm glow (especially when they're openly grateful, but Grant warns us not to base our giving on this), and, often, the person you've helped will help you in turn. And it seems those of us who give of ourselves in just the right way may actually be more successful at work as well.

Right. I'm off to help someone out.


Are you double-voiced?

February 6, 2014

"You're adjusting what you have to say in light of what you think they want you to say." - Judith Baxter

We spend a lot of time speaking, but most of us don’t focus on the way we use language. Yet language is one of those often imperceptible, everyday things that subtly affects the way women come across at work. And, according to my next guest, using it well is part of being a good leader.

In the next episode of The Broad Experience we'll talk about the use of language at the office. My guest is linguist Judith Baxter, a professor at Aston University in the UK and author of The Language of Female Leadership. In the podcast we discuss how senior men and women use humor in the workplace, specifically in meetings, and how that affects the way they come across (hint: if you’re a woman, it does not generally go down well - tune in to find out why). But our interview covered other aspects of language use, something I’m particularly interested in because sociolinguistics formed part of my degree. It was my favorite bit, so it’s great to be able to dabble in it once more.

As she's studied men, women, and language use in corporations, Judith has witnessed a lot of what she calls ‘double-voice discourse’. She describes it like this: “It’s the awareness that when you’re talking you’re always considering the agenda of person you are talking to.” Which sounds quite positive, and, dare I say, very female: All that taking into account of other people’s feelings as we interact with them, all that careful treading and subtle flattery. But then she adds this: “You’re aware of what they’re thinking and adjusting what you have to say in light of what you think they want you to say.” Which sounds less positive and more needy.

For example, you’re in a conversation with a colleague or manager and you suspect they may not rate you much. You pre-empt them with something like, “It may not be the best idea, but…” or, “I realize I’m no expert like the rest of you, but…”

Judith gathered over half a million words of data from men and women and found that, statistically, women were four times as likely as men to use this type of hedging language.

“I worked out double voicing is a means of guarding a person from criticism,” she told me. “For example, ‘That person thinks I’m stupid, that person doesn’t take me seriously, doesn’t think I’m an expert,’" so by adjusting your language, you’re deftly adding some criticism before it can emerge from the other person’s mouth. Rather like making a joke about yourself before the other person can. 

I've used language this way over the years, and although I try to keep an eye on in now, it probably still happens. The issue for women in the workplace is that this kind of language can make us look hesitant and wishy-washy. When I look back on the number of times I’ve started a sentence with an apology or a ‘I could be wrong, but…’, I’m horrified. Why would anyone else trust me if that was the way I was presenting myself? If you sound unsure of your convictions, others are unlikely to have faith in you.

Still, Judith says double-voice discourse isn’t all bad. She’s seen women use it to their advantage. “They can be very responsive to events and prevent trouble that way. If they see something brewing, they’re onto it right away." So the 'female' tendency to be alive to others' wants and needs can work to our linguistic advantage when a situation is getting heated.

Tune in here to find out what Judith's research says about why women aren't funny. (Just kidding. We are. Details to be revealed in the podcast.) 


Cultivating your inner badass

January 30, 2014

Sophie Tucker, definitely a badass

When a listener described me as ‘badass’ last year I got an odd thrill. It didn’t sound like me at all: the self-doubting, not-sure-I-can-do-it person born and brought up in the self-deprecating UK.

So how can a person like me – or the old me, anyway, because I have been improving – become more ‘badass’? That was the question posed in a webinar I was on yesterday, courtesy of 85 Broads. Barbara Roche was the speaker. She’s a leadership communication coach who also teaches at the Wharton School of Business. She works with a lot of professional women who are highly accomplished. Yet many of them still have crises of confidence.

A lot of women pretty much live in that state. Lack of confidence has haunted me all my life. If women had the same sense of self-belief many men do, we’d be making far more of a mark on the world. But we're hampered by an inner voice that is always chattering, telling us we’re not quite up to par.

Cultivating confidence: 

  • Before I outline some of Barbara Roche's points, I'm putting a stake in the ground. Confidence comes from doing things that make you uncomfortable. At the start of each new job or project I've been a mass of nerves, questioning my abilities and worrying I'll flop. Looking back, I can see how much my confidence has grown over the years. This wouldn't have happened if I hadn't taken on new challenges and done things that terrified me (like live radio). So at least some confidence comes from new experiences. That said, the evil inner voice still has a lot to answer for.
  • Barbara Roche started the session by defining ‘badass’. Turns out it has two definitions. She immediately rejected the first, ‘tough or aggressive’, and embraced the second: ‘formidable, excellent.’ I’ll take that one too. She said the point was to talk to us about “how to bring out the most formidable parts of yourself so you can seize the moment and advance in your career – or your family dynamics.”
  • Women "caveat all our sentences about what we're good at." Sound familiar? I've done this countless times. You start saying something positive about yourself and then insert a 'but'. One of the things Barbara forces clients to do is speak an entire sentence about themselves that does not include a caveat. And do it again - and again.

  • She cited the work of Carol Dweck of Stanford University, who has done a lot of work on mindsets.

 First, the fixed mindset:

Must be perfect

Fear of failure

Qualities set in stone

Then, the malleable mindset:

Continuously learning

Willing to try

Qualities are malleable

  • It probably won’t surprise you to learn most women Barbara sees have a fixed mindset. The majority of men have a malleable one. I’d say I am now much closer to having a malleable mindset, but for most of my life it was fixed, and I still struggle with some of those qualities.
  • One of Barbara's male clients told her he thought of himself as Arnold Schwarzennegar – yes, that’s how he began his days (as a badass, essentially). Whereas “most women look in the mirror and see flaws, things that are going wrong." You have to set an intention to start each day with a "growth mindset” in order to cultivate badassdom. 
  • Shed the people who are bringing you down: the colleague who wastes hours of your week moaning about their life, or the friend who is mired in negativity. They're sucking your energy and your ability to get anything done and feel good about yourself. It sounds a bit woo-woo, but bad energy saps you.

What I took away from this webinar was that a lot of what keeps women under-confident is in our heads. Yes, I knew that. But sometimes being reminded that this self-sabotaging mindset is just a mindset is helpful. I can attest that it takes practice to start silencing 'the voice' and getting it to talk to you in different and positive ways. It's difficult to break the habit of a lifetime. But it can be done - in stages. One suggestion? Start looking at the men around you and observing their behavior. I did this and marveled at their chutzpah (especially when they were years younger than me). Then I tried to copy it - within my own comfort zone, yes, but still, I took a leaf out of their collective book. 

One woman who truly fits the 'badass' moniker is Erika Napoletano. She's written a book called The Power of Unpopular. If you need a little female badass in your life, head to her site and check out some of her blog posts. And be prepared for some forthright opinions.