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