By Suzanne Bates

A lot of experts believe women struggle more than men to summon their confidence. As a woman, have you ever wondered, “Is that really true?”

The truth is that both men and women feel doubt from time to time. We often see this in our coaching. We also note that women may express those doubts out loud more often than men do publicly, but in private, with a coach, men are more open about it.     

There’s another way to look at confidence – not from the inside out – but rather – in the way others see you. Our research has good news for women when it comes to confidence. When we ask colleagues and bosses to rate the confidence of male and female leaders, the data shows on average, they don’t see much difference at all.   

Over a period of two years, we looked at the Bates ExPI assessment results of nearly 1,000 leaders.  Direct reports, bosses and peers gave men and women similar marks on “acting decisively when situations require action”. They also saw them as equal, on average, in being able to “weigh options under pressure and act in a timely manner”.  Women actually received higher ratings in their “willingness to take on difficult issues without delay”.   

Here are some other interesting findings:

  • Bosses also see men and women as similar when it comes to confidence
  • Peers actually rate women higher in confidence than they do men
  • Overall, women rate higher in 7 of the 15 qualities of presence; men rate higher in 1


What can you do if you’re a woman who doesn’t always feel confident?

  • Ask your boss whether you act decisively when the situation requires action
  • Ask your team whether under pressure you are able to weigh the options and act
  • Ask your peers whether you invite and consider dissenting views

If the answer to any of these is no, you now have valuable information about an area you can develop.

For example, if you want to work on opening up to dissenting views, schedule a meeting with people with various viewpoints on a tough issue, and make it a point to simply listen and acknowledge. If you believe your challenge is weighing the options and taking action, pick an easier decision, and give yourself a short deadline to make the call. Understanding how others see you, and practicing with easier decisions, is a great way to build skill.

Having a coach or mentor help you build your inner confidence is also an option. You may learn through the Bates ExPI assessment that even though you don’t feel particularly confident, people see you that way. Knowing how others view you really is the first step in becoming a more self-confident leader. 

For more of our research on advancing Women, take a look at this white paper: Women in Leadership: What History Tells Us About the Path to the C-Suite

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