Role Mommy Q & A with the authors of “The Confidence Code” Katty Kay & Claire Shipman
1. Why were you inspired to write ” The Confidence Code”?
It really grew out of our work on our book Womenomics. We’d noticed, in our reporting, that many of the extremely successful women we would interview would often express a certain hesitation about their abilities. They might laughingly confess they didn’t know how they’d achieved what they had – or suggest they weren’t sure they were really qualified. Since we’d often felt that way ourselves we understood it, but when we kept hearing it, we thought it was worth digging into. And, in fact, we found out that what had always seemed to be harmless or “natural” feelings, were in fact a manifestation of a widespread lack of confidence.
2. Does “fake it ’til you make it” work?
No! It sure sounds good though, doesn’t it? Here’s why: First, humans are quite adept at reading non-verbal cues. It turns out we can sniff out frauds quite handily. Second, knowingly “faking it” actually contributes to a sense of underlying insecurity and unworthiness. Authenticity is critical to true confidence. It’s true that the ability to create real confidence can require a jump-start – sometimes you will experience fear, and you need to overcome it. But a façade doesn’t work.
3. Tell us about the research you learned about while writing “The Confidence Code.”
There was more than we imagined about the science and biology of confidence in some ways. We really did not expect to find that confidence, for example, is genetic. But it is – to some extent. Most experts believe it’s a trait that is somewhere between 25 and 50 percent inherited. There isn’t one “confidence gene,” but there are a number of genes that have been identified that play a key role in supporting confident behavior. Some of them are the genes that control Serotonin, Dopamine and Oxytocin in our brains, for example.
We didn’t find a clear gender gap genetically, however. But we also found substantial research that suggests there are some biological, or structural differences in male and female brains that could affect confidence. This is a hugely controversial subject – and we initially hoped to avoid it – but we found we couldn’t in good faith. Research in ongoing, nothing is definitive, and male and female brains are much more alike than different. Still, some scans show different levels of activity, or different sorts of matter, or a different use of parts of our brains when looking at gender-differentiated brain scans. And some researchers believe that could account for the fact that women might operate more cautiously, or might be prone to ruminate. Both of those things can affect confidence.
Hormones play a big role as well. A multitude of studies show that testosterone encourages risk-taking, and sometimes a herd-like mentality. Men have substantially more testosterone, obviously.
4. Is confidence the same as self-esteem?
No, actually. We took a long an tangled journey through the many definitions of confidence and its cousins: self-esteem, optimism, self-efficacy, self-compassion. Confidence means many things to many people, it turns out. But what we filtered out, after all of our research, is that confidence has an element of action about it. Indeed, one academic put it in very clear terms for us. “Confidence is the stuff that turns thoughts into action,” according to Dr. Richard Petty of Ohio State University. That action might not be running a marathon, or storming into your boss’s office. It can be the action of making a decision. But it’s the frame of mind that allows us to believe we are able to do what we set out to do. And you can see why that frame of mind would make action of all sorts more likely. You can also see why, therefore, experience matters. The more experience we have taking action, learning, and mastering things – the more we create a frame of mind that says we think we can.
5. Do you have any advice for raising confident daughters?
Yes – let them fail! Let them be messy. Let them make mistakes. We found that our girls are being taught to be too perfect – not always consciously. Who doesn’t want a child who’s helpful and contentious and who does extremely well in school? Our girls today are academic superstars, but they aren’t learning the lessons that will help them in the real world – that failure is ok, and that risks are worthwhile. Sports help enormously, but despite Title lX, girls are dropping out of sports at a much higher rate than boys as they hit puberty.
6. Public speaking is an iconic issue for women’s confidence. Do you have any tips?
Practice helps. But that’s obvious. What we found is that, first of all, it’s important to see making mistakes here and there in public speaking as natural. The audience actually likes that, because the speaker seems more human. Knowing your mistake might help you connect can ease some of your tension.
But we also found that for women, it can be hugely helpful to reframe your remarks. Women feel more confident and more at ease when they are speaking on behalf of others – whether it’s a cause, a company or friends. It shifts the mental spotlight off of us somehow, and allows us to display our passion and knowledge with more ease. So if you can find a way to recast your remarks, or even the way you think about your remarks – it can be a huge boost for speaking with confidence.
7. Studies suggest there are a number of reasons women tend to earn less than comparably educated/experienced male colleagues. Which one (or two) do you feel is most notable, or easiest to address?
We need to ask for more. Straight out of college women don’t negotiate for higher salaries but men do. We need to ask ourselves, “What’s going to happen if I ask for a raise?” The worst is that you don’t get the extra money; you’re not going to die because you ask for something, so give it a go. That’s what men do. And if you don’t get it the first time, don’t give up. One day it will work and that will give you the confidence to ask again the next time. Women should remember they are just as competent as their male colleagues so they are worth as much.
8. Women tend to be underrepresented in leadership positions, from the C Suite to Capitol Hill. What gives? What can we do about it?
There are lots of reasons. We still don’t have as many role models at the top as men do, so we tend not to see ourselves so easily in those leadership positions. As one woman put it to us, men look in the mirror and see a senator; a woman would never be so presumptuous. It’s certainly not lack of competence. Women are better educated than men. But we also hold ourselves back, somehow doubting our right to rule at the top. That’s where the confidence gap between men and women really shows itself. Confidence is the missing link to our success.
9. What advice might you offer women who want to climb the corporate ladder or negotiate their salaries/benefits? What about new college graduates ready to launch their careers?
Know that you are valuable and don’t assume that just by keeping your head down and working hard, your natural talents will be recognized. You need to ask for what you want – whether it’s more money or a promotion or better benefits. Often your bosses are so busy, they haven’t even thought about your situation. It’s up to you to let them know what you need and up to you to believe that you deserve it.
10. Is there anything you would like to add?
Everyone can choose confidence. It’s hard, deliberative work building self-assurance – but it is a choice. You can choose to walk across the room and introduce yourself to that interesting looking stranger – or choose not to. You can choose to raise your hand in that meeting – or choose not to. It’s not easy but confidence is a decision. But the two most inspiring things we uncovered are that – as you choose to take action here and there, as you choose to take risks, and learn, and master situations, you are not only building confidence – you are changing your brain. You are building a new way of thinking. The research on brain plasticity is extraordinary.
And a cornerstone of confidence, we found, is authenticity. We don’t have to try to emulate a male style of confidence – that might look just too macho for us. It doesn’t always have to be about speaking up first, or being the loudest, most aggressive person at the table. True confidence comes from knowing and expressing our values.
For more information, please visit www.theconfidencecode.com.