Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Women as Confident Askers

A just-published study by Scott Taylor, an assistant professor at the University of New Mexico, shows that women tend to underrate themselves substantially (11%), while men tend to overrate themselves slightly when asked how they think their bosses would rate them. Furthermore, the older the woman, the more she may underrate herself. I wonder if the findings might carry over to the level of confidence that women feel going into a solicitation. Is a woman a bit more likely to underestimate the effectiveness of her presentation in a face-to-face encounter? or less likely to speak up at a board meeting on behalf of her point of view? It's worth a little introspection.

I recall a formative moment early in my development career, perhaps a rash moment, in which I attemped to emulate the way I thought a man might handle a situation. I was visiting the head of PG&E in San Francisco with my boss Frank Oppenheimer, the Director of the Exploratorium. Our goal was a program grant for $5,000 - a good sum from PG&E in those days. The CEO and Frank made pleasantries. The CEO was an admirer. Frank referenced a new book the museum had just published entitled "Looking at the Light," a copy of which was in my hands. The CEO said he'd like to see it. Something came over me, and I tossed it on the table toward him saying lightly, "Sure, but it'll cost you $5,000." The CEO laughed, thumbed through the book, and gave us $5,000.

That moment set me up for the rest of my career. And yet, it did not instantly create a new, confident core. I was a girl from the beforetime, afterall. While I could act with confidence, I was ginning it up. Well, that's good, and practice matters, but what this new study reveals is that there is still more to gain. AP reporter Heather Clark writes, "The exercise was a confidence booster, Walker said. Now, she takes five minutes during weekly meetings with her supervisor to discuss what she's done on the job, something she thinks men do more easily than women."

Stepping out with more confidence that others may regard us even better than we regard ourselves may even lead to better health. Who knows?

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