Why we need to stop underplaying our own abilities & start owning our successes.

stop underplaying our own abilities

Why we need to stop underplaying our own abilities & start owning our successes.


There have been many, many papers written about how girls outperform boys throughout their school and education years. So, why is it that as soon as we hit the workplace, it seems to instantly reverse and the boys outperform us girls?

Essentially, men are not any more clever than women, they are simply more confident in their own abilities and intelligence. Research by University College London a few years ago found that men would more often overstate their IQ scores, while women believed their scores to be much lower than they actually were.

This sometimes overconfidence in men leads to better results for them in a lot of workplace situations; such as interviews, meetings, and promotions.

In her book Lean In, Sheryl Sandberg talks about how this comes into play when employees are asked to take on a big task, project, or even invited for promotion. If a man is offered any of these and is aware that he may not have all of the skills needed, he will accept the project and tell himself that he'll learn on the way. Offer the same thing to a woman with the same skill set, and she will turn it down by telling herself that she is not ready yet. As Sheryl says,

Women need to shift from thinking "I'm not ready to do that" to thinking "I want to do that - and I'll learn by doing it".

own your success


In a recent feedback meeting I had with my boss, I was told that I do a lot of good things, but I just don't tell him about them. He told me that it's hard for him to shout about my successes and achievements, when I don't shout about them myself.

This was one of the points that hit me the hardest - and I realised that this was something that you could probably attribute to a lot of women. We're just not made to shout about our achievements.

In school, we are taught that if you work hard, you will automatically be rewarded. If you study and revise well, you are rewarded with the good grades. However, this doesn't translate into adult life and the working world.

You can't just keep your head down, deliver good work and then sit around and wait for it to be noticed by management and colleagues. You need to go and tell people. You need to own your successes, be confident with them and be sure to self-promote.

Our managers aren't mind readers. So, if we do something we are proud of, we need to tell them. If we have a certain skill that we feel isn't being utilised, tell them. If you feel you deserve a promotion because of a project that you managed, explain why and ask for it.

Again, this is something that doesn't often come naturally to women, but it does to men. Men seem to instinctively have this awareness that self-promotion is vital, and go out and do it. Women, on the other hand, often feel embarrassed to do so, and it's as if we have this modesty drilled into us from a young age.

This however, brings us onto a whole other conversation because as Sheryl also points out in her book;

Men are continually applauded for being ambitious and powerful and successful, but women who display these same traits often pay a social penalty. Female accomplishments come at a cost.

So, are we purposely not shouting about our successes because we feel we'll be disliked? Is it a concious thing or is it a result of the messages we've been unconciously receiving our whole lives - that it's not a womans place to be seen as outspoken or too aggressive, or more powerful than a man? Either way, this is something that we need to break through. We need to stop being scared of self-promotion, and go ahead and own all of our successes - no matter how big or small they be.

Professor Marilyn Davidson of The Manchester Business School spent a number of years doing a study on her students, asking them what they expected to be earning five years after they leave university and graduate. Worryingly, her female students stated a salary that was, on average, 20% lower than those of their male counterparts.

Salary expectation is derived from confidence in ourselves and our own abilities and worth. So, in order to close the pay gap, do we first need to close the confidence gap?

It's certainly food for thought, don't you think?