Men don’t hold the patent for aggressive confidence. Plenty of women, and all manner of folks, are guilty of hubris, too. But aggressive confidence is something that’s inarguably prized by male-centric cultures and institutions — including, by default, most workplaces.
As a result, across gender identities, we’re told that getting ahead in your career requires a ruthless degree of confidence. You have to be relentless in going after the things you want, and you can never take no for an answer. Call it “self-advocating.” Call it some patriarchal BS. But don’t call it the primary guide for choosing who gets promoted, according to Minda Zetlin, co-author of “The Geek Gap.”
"Let's say you need to promote someone to be head of a department or area of your business,” she wrote. “Of two employees in line for the job, one says: ‘Please give me this chance, boss! I'm ready to take on this role and I know I will do a great job’ The other says: ‘I would love that job, but I'm not sure I'm ready. I know there will be a lot of challenges, and a lot of unknowns.’ Which candidate should you choose?”
Too often, managers go with the first option when they should really be choosing the second. Here’s why that’s the case, according to Zetlin.
“There's ample evidence that men in the workplace are generally more confident of their own abilities than women are, and that men will put themselves forward for a job for which they are not completely qualified, while women will hesitate to do so even when they're overqualified,” Zetlin wrote.
To illustrate that, she used Corie Barry, CEO of Best Buy, as an example. She was chosen by former CEO Hubert Joly to be his successor, despite having not been completely confident that she was ready. Today, she’s succeeding, at 44, as the youngest CEO of a Fortune 100 company and one of only a handful of women to hold that title.
For this, Zetlin points to the Dunning Kruger Effect as evidence. Psychology Today defines this as “a cognitive bias in which people wrongly overestimate their knowledge or ability in a specific area. This tends to occur because a lack of self-awareness prevents them from accurately assessing their own skills.”
Confidence can often speak to the belief that you already have the answers, rather than the humility to acknowledge where you still have room to grow. In a CNBC interview that Zeplin quoted, Barry explained that, for the sake of true innovation, it’s more important to embrace the discomfort of that than to cling tight to the idea that you already have things figured out.
"People want this level of confidence that frankly just isn't possible in business, and it's why I start with [the advice of] making yourself uncomfortable," she said. "Because somewhere in here you're going to have to put yourself in a space that you don't quite feel ready to fill, and then leverage all the resources around you to help you be successful."