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Women and Self Confidence: Why Women Find it Difficult to Get Ahead at Work

Tags:  Women at work, Women owned businesses, Self-esteem, Women co-workers, Women and office politics

"Well, no one was gonna listen, sir, not to me.  I mean, you can bend the 
rules plenty, once you get upstairs, but not while you're trying to get there. And if
you're someone like me, you can't get there without bending the rules."
-- Melanie Griffith as Tess McGill in Working Girl

Those in the know suggest that women might actually be contributing to the issue, not intentionally, but because of their own behavior. In fact, internationally recognized executive coach and author of Nice Girls Don't Get the Corner Office, Lois Frankel, Ph. D., has put together 101 reasons why women don't get ahead. What she says is, "Although there are plenty of mistakes made by both men and women that hold them back, there are a unique set of mistakes made predominantly by women." And a large part of the problem can be linked to self-esteem and confidence.

Self esteem, self respect, and self confidence, are all important to being able to present you in a positive light and sell your abilities to others, because how can you sell something that you don't believe in? That's why it is important to develop a healthy sense of self.

Here is some insight as to how a woman's self esteem and confidence can get in her way of career advancement.

Personal Branding

You've probably heard this before, but developing your personal brand is vital to your career success. Your personal brand is who you are as an individual: your character, your values, and those special qualities that set you apart from your coworkers.

Dr. Frankel writes, "…we choose behaviors consistent with those that are expected of us rather than those that move us toward fulfillment and self-actualization. Rather than live consciously, we live reactively. Although we mature physically, we never really mature emotionally. And while this may allow us momentary relief from real-world dilemmas, it never allows us to be fully in control of our destiny."  This is why it is important that women consciously choose to be strong, independent and capable rather than just obedient team players.

Build your confidence by building your personal brand. Take control of who you are and the image you portray to others. If you seek success,

  • Do it proactively. Don't wait for it to find you. Approach your boss and ask for what you want: more responsibility, specific job assignments, special projects, and career development opportunities.
  • Find a mentor. Seek out and chose someone who can introduce you to the right people, help identify your areas of strength and point out where you need to improve, and someone who will be in your corner.
  • Build your network. In order to get noticed, you need to come out of your office and out of your shell by developing relationships with coworkers in other departments. Volunteer for cross-functional projects and events, attend other department staff meetings, and become involved.

Making a name for yourself and building your brand can help you stand out and show your boss the value you add to your organization.


How women interact with others is important to how they are perceived in the work environment. While women are traditionally good at building relationships, those that they value are those that they protect. And when they try to protect those relationships, they avoid doing anything that might hurt the other person.

For women, then, negotiation becomes difficult. They tend to take it personally and build emotion into it. And when they are dealing with men, it becomes even more difficult.

Other relationship-based difficulties that women face, according to Dr. Frankel, include:

  • Office politics. Women try to avoid them. Problem is if ""you're not involved in office politics, you're not playing the game and, if you're not playing the game, you can't possibly win.""
  • The need to be liked. Like and respect are not the same thing. You won't take risks if you're worried about being liked and not focused on being respected.
  • Not needing to be liked. By the same measure, sometimes women are afraid of being an easy mark so they build up a crusty outer shell thinking being popular is unimportant. Think again.

The goal should be to find balance between being a woman and being a business professional. Adopting a male stance for everything will not necessarily win you a seat at the big table.


One of the biggest areas of conflict for women is in how they communicate with others. They tend to take a back seat on action and comment, waiting for permission or for someone else to recognize them and their efforts. For women, asking seems to be impolite.

Be comfortable that what you have to say is important and adds to the conversation. Don't

  • Ask permission. Mistake #59 according to Dr. Frankel. Women's supportive nature makes them ask rather than state. Speak up and state your case.
  • Be the last to speak. "The inclination to hold back when men are present is a huge mistake. The longer you wait to speak, the more likely it is that someone else will say what you're thinking and get credit for it," writes Dr. Frankel. She goes on to say, ""Even women whom I've seen act assertively in a group of other women become more passive, compliant, and reticent to speak in a mixed group."
  • Embellish. Women tend to use intensifiers such as very, really, and truly which add no content and weaken the message. They also use gestures such as touching or tossing their hair that can distract the listener.

Remember: acting confident promotes your confidence. And the more confident you are the more comfortable you will be at taking risks. Smile, be friendly, make eye contact and then be willing to participate. You might just find it a little easier to get ahead.



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