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Dr. Ivan Joseph Headshot

How To Coach Women To Build Their Self-Confidence

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I have coached both men and women over the years and appreciate the similarities and differences between both genders. Like their male counterparts, female athletes are intensely competitive, hard-working and motivated to succeed. They love to win and hate to lose. But one of the biggest factors that keeps women from being high performers is their belief in themselves. Simply stated, women tend to be less confident than men.

Let's say, for example, I'm giving my soccer team feedback after a game. "Some of you are choosing not to shoot when they need to." If I was addressing the men's team, everyone would think I was talking about the guy to their right or left. But if I was making that same comment to the women's team, almost every player would hang her head in shame.

That's not only my experience. When legendary women's soccer coach Anson Dorrance started coaching women after having coached men for years, he noticed a "tremendous lack of confidence" amongst his team, including the best players. On the other hand, his biggest issue with the men was hubris. He had to work on "ego busting" with the men and "ego boosting" with the women.

Confidence Gap in the Boardroom

That confidence gap translates to the boardroom as well. Research shows that women routinely underestimate their abilities and subsequent performance while men overestimate both. The actual performances of both genders have the same quality.

Hewlett-Packard discovered through their personnel records, as reported by the Atlantic, that women applied for a promotion only when they believed they met 100 per cent of the qualifications listed for the job, versus the men who applied when they met 50 per cent.

In my experience, women are more likely to take the first offer than their male colleagues. I have noticed that fewer women negotiate their salary offer and those that do are less assertive in the process. A study conducted by Dr. Linda Babcock of Carnegie Mellon University shows that only 7 per cent of women entering the workforce negotiate their first salary versus 57 per cent of the men. The study suggests that the gender pay gap might be eliminated if women negotiated their first salary.

Here are some ways to coach women to build their self-confidence.

Help Women Practice Raising Their Hand

When lecturing in class, I have observed that my female students seem to hide in the shadows of their male classmates. When I invite them to contribute, they have something intelligent to offer, which enriches the discussion. The challenge is getting them to raise their hand.

The key to building self-confidence is repeated practice coupled with persistence. Help women on your team overcome self-doubt by inviting them to contribute to the conversation, whether they are in classroom or the boardroom. Tell them to put themselves in a position where they have done this a thousand times. When women practice raising their hand over and over and over again, it becomes second nature to them.

Catch Them When They're Good

Develop women's self-belief by praising outstanding performance. Emphasizing what they are not good at would shatter their self-confidence.

Here's a strategy that can be borrowed from the playing field. Before games, renowned soccer coach Anson Dorrance would show his women's team highlight reels of their last game where they were extraordinary to boost their self-confidence. Similarly, remind your employees of times when they were great before they're about to make an important presentation or close a deal.

Tell Women To Make The "Ask"

I once found out that a female employee was upset that I didn't give her a promotion. I was surprised because I did not even realize that she wanted the job. She said that her work should speak for itself and that I should have known she wanted the job. I had given the job to another employee who asked for the promotion. That colleague was a man. It was a shame I wasn't aware she wanted the job as she would have been an excellent candidate.

Encourage your team repeatedly to ask for what they want. Keep all channels of communication open and tell your team repeatedly: "If you want something, ask for it."

Give Feedback One-On-One

Give critical feedback one-on-one, rather than within the group. Calling out women who did not do well would impact their confidence level and have the opposite outcome to the desired effect.

Women athletes own external feedback, which allows them to be more coachable than their male peers. They are more willing to take direction, listen and work on their performance than men. Constructive feedback, given in a one-on-one setting, can go a long way to creating a high-performance member of your team in the boardroom and on the playing field.


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