During a panel about women and entrepreneurship, a male investor fawned a bit about how much he prefers women leaders. He said we work harder, smarter, and get more results. He then lamented that the only problem with women is our lack of confidence, that it holds us back. The other women on the panel chimed in, agreeing and encouraging the women in the audience with, “Come on, ladies, believe in yourself,” and “You go, girl! You’ve got this.”
There is this generally accepted belief that women lack confidence and need more of it. As someone who has coached thousands of women, including candidates to get elected, founders to get investors, and executives to lead from the C-Suite, I can tell you it is not a lack of confidence, it is integrity.
Women often have high standards for what we must be great at, and this can keep us from going for some roles. If a position lists 10 requirements, for example, a woman may not apply for it because she lacks ONE of the 10. That is a sign of high integrity, not low confidence. She may feel extremely confident about nine out of 10 requirements, yet she may not apply without that last requirement because doing so feels dishonest.
Another example of this is women who run for public office. Women often set their own high bar to qualify as elected officials, the heralded stewards of a community. They make long lists of the skills a person must be great at in order to receive such a high honor. Integrity keeps women from running if they aren’t great at everything on that list.
It’s Time to Redefine
What women must do is redefine the bar and rethink the basic qualifications for a role. If we don’t, someone is going to go for that role and they are often not better. I mean, come on: every single news day brings another story of folks on the legislative payroll who are not serving their community.
High integrity is sometimes related to perfectionism. When we try to ensure that we do everything flawlessly and without misrepresenting our abilities, that we tick each and every box, we miss the innovation that comes from imperfection. To be great at something we must be bad at something else. No one can do everything equally well.
We cannot hold ourselves to being good at all things. Instead, we can redefine how perfect we need to be to begin or to take on a particular role — and what we can call on others to do. That last part, calling upon others to do things, is key. We must see what other people are great at, then include and invite them to participate.
It may sound obvious, but we women are not always great at asking for help. We are all busy, and we know that other people are equally busy, so we often just get stuff done on our own. And yet, delegating work, and deploying others to help on projects is an important strategy for accelerating outcomes.
A woman I recently spoke with about this texted me the other day. “I’ve only been at work for two hours, and you are right. It isn’t a lack of confidence driving my actions, it is my unrealistic expectations. Could any mortal hit the high bar I had set? No. Redefining that bar has been liberating.” That is the key: Redefine the bar to suit the task or the role at hand; calibrate it for what is necessary and what is ancillary.
Change must come from the hiring side, too. Organizations need to do the work of redefining what skill sets are actually required versus those that reflect outdated, unhelpful, or biased requests. Women: Gender bias does not need another spokesperson. It is challenging enough already. Let’s get on our own damn side and redefine how high that bar is and what skills are truly required to do the job. Way too many companies, communities, and creative adventures are missing our needed point of view.
“It’s not that we need more women in leadership to fulfill a quota that perpetuates existing systems. It’s that the existing system disproportionately rewards socialized masculinity with leadership and we need to consider why that is and the effect it has on our society.” -@emrazz
We must accelerate what leadership truly is. Bravado and talking over people isn’t leadership.
In our communities, citizens must notice who is doing the real, tough, community-focused work and put them in positions of power. Nudge her to run for that seat. Let’s elevate those who do the stuff rather than talk about it. Systemic improvement is accelerated when diverse thought has more agency and we need yours, sister.