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Is confidence more important than competence?

Maureen Edobor

Maureen Edobor

“The Confidence Code,” written by journalists Katty Kay and Claire Shipman, holds itself out to be a handbook for women living in a professional world where bald self-assurance outweighs competence and outspoken men are more valuable to the workplace than their quiet and cerebral colleagues. As an introvert who prefers to listen more than speak, perhaps to my professional detriment, this book caught my attention. I’ve often wondered why incessant displays of confidence, often demonstrated by men, correlate with more opportunity, upward mobility and, ultimately, more success. Barring complete historical and societal context (patriarchy, sexism, etc.), “The Confidence Code” (full name: “The Confidence Code: The Science and Art of Self-Assurance — What Women Should Know”) provides an interesting argument: Women will never reach equity in the workplace if they do not show the brazen confidence in their experience, education and intelligence that men so easily exhibit, even when their work product and intellectual capacities do not support their overconfidence. The ostensible dichotomy between confidence, relied on by men, and quiet competence, relied on by women, is the framework in which the book makes its seminal point.

The disparity in confidence between women and men is an undisputed and clear fact. Of course, this can be attributed to many things, including the historical notion that women were not useful outside the home and that homemaking was our God-given destiny.  However, this is not a consideration that “The Confidence Code” dares to reflect on. Instead, the book offers a simple argument from causation: that confidence turns thoughts into action and that a result of under-confidence is, naturally, inaction, which results in slower equitable gains in the workplace for women.

I agree with the central premise of the book: that confidence provides kinetic energy that tends to build momentum when displays of confidence are rewarded professionally. However, I disagree that unabashed confidence — or a manifest belief that one is the smartest person in the room and handles the most important cases at the firm or knows all the answers to questions posed in the lecture hall — is the way to achieve gender equity in education and in the professional world.

Evidence suggests that those who are deemed leaders have traits typical of confident and extroverted men. Essentially, the professional world identifies leaders through the male vision. The limitation of this vision is that women, particularly introverted women, are overlooked and disregarded. A higher level of confidence for women is not the elixir, as “The Confidence Code” argues. The remedy lies somewhere between fully appreciating what all employees bring to the table in the way of substance and personality and challenging the bygone notion that women simply cannot lead because they differ from men who have historically held positions of power.

All personalities, personal and professional backgrounds and genders bring value to the workplace. Those outside the realm of mainstream perceptions of a “leader” should be confident in their identities because they are invaluable. No promotion, assignment or special privilege bestowed upon another should disturb that fact.

Maureen Edobor is an associate with Goldberg Segalla, LLP in Baltimore.

2 comments

  1. Great points! We introverted women need to keep spreading this news. I shared this on FB and LInkedin. Thank you.

  2. P.S. I just linked to your post on my blog.

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