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Do Women in Sales Really Lack Self-Confidence?

Don’t believe everything you hear about women.

Women don’t speak up, don’t apply for jobs unless they meet 100 percent of the requirements, go unnoticed, and lack confidence. That’s why more of us haven’t broken through the glass ceiling yet. At least that’s what we’ve read in article after article. I’ve even written about how women in sales lack confidence.

You know the adage—if we hear something often enough, we believe it. (Nevermore) I’m also reminded of this quote by Edgar Allan Poe: “Believe nothing you hear, and only one half that you see.”

Well, women’s lack of confidence is a myth, according to several recent studies. But new research shows that confidence doesn’t have the same power for women as it does for men.

Confidence Isn’t the Problem for Women in Sales 

To further dispel the “confidence gap” myth, Laura Guillen of ESMT Berlin, Margarita Mayo of IE Business School, and Natalia Karelaia of INSEAD studied the appearance of self-confidence on organizational influence. In other words, they wanted to understand the extent to which others perceive women as confident and whether that affected women’s chances to move up the corporate ladder.

Guillen summarizes their findings in a recent HBR article. She writes: 

Even among similarly high-performing workers, appearing self-confident did not translate into influence equally for men and women. For women, but not for men, influence was closely tied to perceptions of warmthhow caring and prosocial they seemed. Moreover, women’s self-reported confidence did not correlate with how confident these women appeared to others.

While self-confidence is gender-neutral, the consequences of appearing self-confident are not. The “performance plus confidence equals power and influence” formula is gendered. Successful women cannot “lean in” on a structure that cannot support their weight without their opportunities (and the myth) collapsing around them. 

(Read the rest of Guillen’s article, “Is the Confidence Gap Between Men and Women a Myth?”)

What This Means for Women in Sales

This research blows that whole “fake it ‘til you make it” thing out of the water, and proves what I’ve been saying for years: Women don’t have to act like men to succeed. We have our own advantages in sales.

It’s time to challenge conventional thinking about why women don’t move up the ladder and start addressing the real biases that hold women back. When the playing field is equal, women know exactly how to excel.

Want to give your women in sales the tools they need to get their voices heard? Check out my interactive presentation, “Big Deals and High Heels™: Why Women Are Naturals at Selling.”

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