Jenny Morris challenges the assertion That advice to women to ‘lean in’, be more confident… doesn’t help”

Would you tell a young girl or a young woman not to be confident? Not to believe in themselves? Not to try to be their best selves in whatever arena they choose to be in?

I suspect your answer would be ‘no’.

It seems to me that we are shooting ourselves in the foot by forcing a false choice – supporting women vs changing systems – when it is patently obvious to anyone working in the gender and inclusion field, we need to do both. This is particularly evident in male-dominated industries and workplaces. And while it is a huge ask for women to change the system, the thing women do have control over is their thinking, their internal dialogue and their choices. We need to keep providing opportunities for self-reflection, insight and awareness before we can safely say women are making informed choices about their careers. Confidence in themselves is central to this.

Let’s be clear … it is not about being ‘like a man’. That approach will not change the system, in fact, it is likely to reinforce the very aspects of the system that need to be changed.

However, to change the system, we will need as many women as possible to be extremely confident, have a deep belief themselves and have a clear vision of their aspiration. Women will need the confidence and self-belief to be their authentic selves. It is that confidence and self-belief that will enable us to have the courage to say and do what needs to be said and done to change the system.

When we encourage women to be confident, to have belief in themselves, we are not suggesting they be ‘overconfident’. Overconfidence is arrogance and we are seeing the negative impact of that in many parts of the corporate world today.

However, we know that today there are still many environments were the interactions in these environments have eroded the confidence, belief and aspirations of women. Sometimes it is overt, however, more often it is a subtle long process. For those women whose confidence and belief has been eroded or for those whose aspirations have been smothered, we need to support them to get back on track. One thing we do know is that to have the courage to change, leave or condemn those environments, we will definitely require confidence, belief in oneself and a strong desire to move to something better.

We also need a support network, formal and informal, comprised of women (and men) who encourage us when our own confidence and belief wanes. Our very own sisterhood.

So it is not about ‘fixing’ women or being ‘like a man’, it is about changing systems and sometimes we need to be encouraged. It brings to mind when Helen Reddy did when she sang:

I am woman, hear me roar
In numbers too big to ignore
And I know too much to go back an’ pretend

If I have to, I can do anything
I am strong
I am invincible
I am woman

Building up the confidence of women and helping an organisation evolve are not mutually exclusive. Both are necessary.

By Jenny Morris and Heather Forton.


In response to an article published in The Conversation and Women’s Agenda.