Original publication – The CEO Magazine
Original publication date – February 17, 2017

According to a recent survey from the Institute of Health and Human Potential’s Women under Pressure initiative, only 32% of women feel their organization has the same amount of confidence in them as they do in their male counterparts.   This confirms the “confidence gap” exists – and women often feel less capable, prepared and willing to take risks than their male colleagues.

When women don’t feel their organization has confidence in them, there’s a serious business impact as women may:

  • Not be as willing to take risks to innovate, drive change, and stand up for what they feel is right.
  • Speak up less.  Worried about being seen as “pushy or aggressive”, women will not always push back, give critical feedback or hold someone accountable.  This is especially important when there is pressure, as brain research shows that women get more blood flow to the hippocampus than men do when under pressure, allowing women to see more variables and solutions.  Men, on the other hand, get tunnel vision.    When making decisions, organizations need a woman’s ability to see all the options, but if women don’t feel confident, they’re less likely to speak up.
  • Not ask for a promotion/pay raise.   If they don’t feel the organization values their contribution as much as men, they won’t feel deserving of a pay raise or promotion.  This further exacerbates the gender gap that already exists.

If these things happen, women may leave your organization, or may not share their best ideas that will drive change, innovation and performance.

In IHHP’s study, we measured women’s perception that their leaders have less confidence in them. Since “perception is reality,” senior leaders have great opportunities to address this perception, change reality, and improve the confidence gap.
To show women that you have confidence in them:

  1. Lead by example. Culture starts at the top and if a CEO isn’t authentic about what they’re saying, women (and men) will know it. Actions speak louder than words and CEOs can start with some simple things:
  • Know how many female leaders there are at different levels in your organization.
  • Determine whether you’re promoting women at the same rate as men.
  • Understand what’s happening with compensation by gender.
  • Communicate your findings to the rest of the senior team. Showing you are aware of these issues is the first step to resolving them.
  • Focus your recruitment efforts on women – target schools that have a higher graduation rates for women.
  • For open positions, identify at least one female candidate.  CEOs can ask managers what women they’ve identified for each position.
  • Ask women for their input/opinions
  • Acknowledge the value of their input publicly

When women see the CEO taking substantial action, even on seemingly small things, they start to believe the culture values them.

2) Recognize the unique value women bring.  We know from brain science that under pressure, women are able to see more context, process more variables, connect to emotions, and see more unintended consequences.   To learn more about the research and brain science, download our Women Under Pressure white paper.

Recognize the value women bring, which can counter the tunnel vision that men often exhibit under pressure.  Tunnel vision can lead men to jump to one particular solution, miss important information, not consider all potential solutions, and worst of all, not always see the unintended consequences of decisions, especially the impact on people.
CEO’s shouldn’t just listen to the squeaky wheel or the loud aggressive person.  A CEO can say ‘I’d like to hear from Jane, we all know she has an ability to see more context and solutions in a situation like this.”

3) Let them know the strengths you see in them.  Both men and women like to know their senior leaders see their positive attributes.  Because women deal with the gender gap and unconscious biases, its means CEOs need to be sure they’re communicating that they see and appreciate the unique value the women on their team bring.

Leadership teams have a mandate to drive results and performance, so they need to consistently review how the organization is valuing and demonstrating confidence in their female members. It can easily be entrenched in a culture that the loudest, most direct voices garner the most attention, thereby undermining the confidence of those who aren’t so loud by nature. By communicating and acting in ways that demonstrate women are a valued part of your culture, you’ll develop their confidence and inspire their best work.