As a 20-something woman in business, self-doubt is the devil on my shoulder. I’m “too young to speak in a meeting,” “too inexperienced to critique the standard approach,” “too unproven to meet the client,” etc.
But the smart, confident, accomplished women in my office have shown me a crucial difference between self-doubt and humility. They accept praise for achievements, but they also credit the whole team; they accept criticism professionally rather than personally; and when their plan is supplanted by some other, they roll up their sleeves and quickly lean in to the new assignment. They are confident, but not proud. They are modest, but not meek. They are pros. And they have taught me lessons that will inform my entire career.
They’ve also taught me that women would do well to take more responsibility for their lack of representation in executive ranks. Women often see themselves as inadequate compared to their male counterparts. A much discussed study from Cornell University found that men overestimate their abilities and performance, and women underestimate both. Women often apply for promotion only when they believed they meet 100 percent of the qualifications. Men apply when they meet 60 percent (assuming, I suppose, they will figure out the other 40 percent on the job).
So, yes, it’s critical that company culture and policies assure women equal opportunities. But seizing the day? That must come from women themselves. Success depends as much on confidence as it does on competence. Women don’t have to “be men” to advance. But getting that devil of self-doubt off our shoulder, and adopting some of the professional assurance that many men find natural, is something I see in the successful women around me.
Natalie Freeman is an intern in FleishmanHillard’ s Atlanta office.