The Female Confidence Conundrum

IMG_4305From big girl panties to a secret note…

As human beings we all share the sense that we are not good enough from time to time but I think that women are particularly vulnerable to the ill effects of these thoughts.

I just read Dana Perino’s, former Press Secretary for President Bush, story on Lean In, Sheryl Sandberg’s blog. I knew I had to share it especially since writing about “confidence” has been on my mind. As human beings we all share the sense that we are not good enough from time to time but I think women are particularly vulnerable to the ill effects of these thoughts.

Perino’s predecessor was leaving and she was nervous about stepping into his position. She received this advice from Secretary Margaret Spellings on her first day: “Put on your big girl panties and deal with it!”

I love this advice! I believe our gender undersells themselves a large majority of the time – whether we are in high school, just starting out in the world or hitting midlife and beyond.

I see it all the time. I could see and feel it, to my own amazement, at a professional conference I attended filled with women holding advanced degrees from highly regarded universities. Many of these women had taken career breaks, yet even sans this factor, I do see women holding back often and I even experience it with my  daughter whose entering senior year of high school.

This takes me back to first grade, one day our teacher asked us to write something about the student next to us on a piece of paper. I was standing next to a boy, who was sort of the class clown, and I wrote “funny.” His response to me was “smart.”

I opened up that slip of paper glanced at the letters as they evolved into the word “smart” and I immediately made a face. I recall this because my teacher called me out on it. She asked me why I made the face and I was dumbstruck. I’m not sure how it all ended but I’m pretty sure she gave me a pep talk about confidence. What a great teacher! Another reason I remember this event is that I was ashamed of being caught and thinking ill of myself.

Nina DiSesa, the first female to head McCann Erickson’s New York office, states in a New York Times article, “For Career Women, Confidence Is Crucial” that: “Women should emulate the single most important male characteristic that leads to their success: confidence (sometimes for no apparent reason). Confidence allows men to be outspoken, to take risks, to negotiate better on their own behalf, to pursue opportunities aggressively, to laugh, to be brave, to be self-involved, and to have no regrets about surrounding themselves with other men instead of men and women. If you don’t have confidence you won’t make it in a man’s world.”

Whatever our career path, I agree with DiSesa confidence is crucial – whether you are a rising star in the corporate world or raising children.

Next time I feel unsure about myself I’m going to think about those big girl panties. What do you think about women and confidence?


  1. Big Girl Pants! That phrase has periodically been an admonishment from my inner self at times of lacking confidence. Certainly if I’ve faced what is essentially just a task or challenge I did not want to do I would have plowed ahead anyway. I have always done what needed doing while others may procrastinate.
    But when I felt reluctant to move forward due to insecurity or fear, I’ve heard that inner voice tell me to “just put on your big girl pants and do it”. I’m not sure what those big girl pants consist of but speculate the material must be akin to what Superwoman or Superman must wear underneath their daily “normal” outfit.

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: