The Great Wall of Female Confidence

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We cannot direct the wind, but we can adjust the sails

– Dolly Parton

How confident do you feel on a day-to-day basis about your capabilities?

Evidence shows that confidence matters as much as competence and hard work when it comes to achieving success. 

This makes sense. A person must demonstrate self-belief and faith in their own abilities to inspire the confidence and belief of others. Imagine a doctor who appears unsure about their diagnosis. Their patient will most definitely seek a second opinion and probably never return to the confused doctor. 

No wonder confidence is the magic word in the El Dorado of success. Its importance can hardly be disputed.  

And yet, as this article notes, women are less self-assured than men. In other words, there exists a confidence gap.

Countless organisations, coaches, and authors have provided a solid solution to closing the confidence gap: the confidence culture. As this LSE article notes, the underlying rationale is that “women are held back by “personal deficits” and, crucially, by their “lack of confidence.” The focus of the confidence culture is then to push women to look inwards, develop their confidence, and, accordingly, position them for success. 

The beneficiaries of the confidence culture have been numerous. But, there is good literature to support the proposition that, taken to its logical conclusion, confidence culture may be doing more harm than good to women. 

This article proposes a need for Peoplenovation in the confidence culture by shifting the underlying focus from “pride” to “dignity.” 


What does confidence stand for?

  • Lean in
  • Fake it till you make it
  • Stand your ground
  • Appear self-assured
  • Never disclose your flaws

These are just a few examples that have appeared in mainstream media, for instance, in this article. When pride is the source of confidence, it asks that no matter what, a woman should always appear self-assured. 

There are three problems with this argument. 

First, the expectation is problematic from a mental health standpoint as it can lead women to blame and be harder on themselves when they cannot harness and project that perfect level of confidence.

Second, it negates the influence of external circumstances on confidence levels. 

Third, confidence culture is essentially a lesson in emotional self-regulation, with the message “change yourself” to pursue success. This article in the Harvard Business Review concludes that confidence, in fact, is a highly gendered word “aimed at and adopted by both women and men to explain away the slower progression of women at work.” Too little, and a woman is underselling herself. Too much, and a woman is overcompensating, rude, or arrogant. In this light, the “perfect standard” of confidence is likely a threat to authentic expression.


What happens when dignity becomes the source of a woman’s confidence?

It frees her. 

Since dignity emanates from within, it values self-acceptance above everything else. This includes accepting and encouraging feelings of humility, vulnerability, reflection, self-compassion, and empathy – all of which are crucial to developing psychological safety. Ultimately, it reduces the “emotional labour” that goes into maintaining the persona of an “infallible fortress” by allowing space for humaneness.  

Further, a dignified understanding of confidence apportions responsibilities between internal and external circumstances. It recognizes the importance of and gives women the leeway to depend on a reliable support system to develop their talents, capabilities, and confidence. It understands that while self-assurance may come from within, it is bolstered and sustained through:

  • Uplifting relationships
  • Mentorship
  • Leadership opportunities
  • Peer support
  • Training
  • Competence development
  • Showing appreciation 
  • Valuing contributions
  • Psychological safety

Dignity nourishes and nurtures women by shifting the focus from compensating for a “personal deficit” to achieving growth in a way that suits an individual’s specific needs. The result is the same, but the starting positions can affect a fundamental change in how a woman perceives herself – adequate as she is, but on a journey to mastery of that which may aid her to achieve more.    


Confidence is undoubtedly a critical skill that all women must master if they want to achieve success. However, there is merit in considering what the “appropriate” pathway is when it comes to striving to gain confidence. 

Imagine a journey towards attaining confidence that is abundant with a sense of belonging, support, compassion, empathy, love, and connection.  Would it be wrong to say that a wall of confidence built on dignity will be stronger, more resilient, and more nurturing?

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