When I first discussed the idea of creating a confidence special, part of me wondered if it was really necessary. After all, you are smart, stylish women with strong, intelligent opinions and an enthusiastic curiosity for the world around you.
But last month, in our Feminism Issue, we published the results of our survey of almost 5,000 British women and it threw up a worrying statistic: only 21% of those questioned said they were confident, while 44% told us they wished they had more confidence. This saddened me, as the survey also revealed only 8% of women felt successful in their lives. It is a shame, because gender equality is now being brought to the forefront of leaders’ minds, and we need an army of confident, self-assured women in the roles that will change all our lives for the better. As the saying goes: ‘You can’t be what you can’t see.’
So what’s holding you back from being more confident? I think the problem is better described as a lack of self-belief. Women set themselves unreasonable standards in every area of their lives; they can’t describe themselves as confident because, to their minds, only the best of the best can be confident. Recent research, reported in Forbes magazine*, backs up this theory: it found women only apply for jobs when they feel 100% qualified, but men do so when they feel just 60% qualified. Our lack of self-belief stops us feeling confident; we judge ourselves too harshly.
I also think women believe there is only one version of ‘confidence’ – and that a mythical set of ‘rules’ somehow means their version of confidence is wrong. We explore this on p114 in The Confidence Masterclass.
For me, confidence is about finding your voice and making it heard. This is not about shouting louder, or indeed judging those women who feel the need to do so; it’s about finding out how to persuade yourself you can achieve whatever you want to. This issue doesn’t have all the answers, far from it, but it does explore the challenge and will hopefully inspire you to defeat the negative thoughts holding you back.
In my 30 years as a journalist and editor, I’ve discovered my own form of confidence. I was a shy teenager when I left home at 16, but my naivety worked in my favour. I had no idea a woman could be frowned on for having a strong opinion in a room full of men; it didn’t cross my mind not to volunteer for the same projects as the male reporters I worked with.
I didn’t give it a second thought that 24 was quite young to be a Woman’s Editor on a national newspaper. But making my voice heard was a challenge, so for a while I faked what a confident woman looked like – then, one day, I realised this is what a confident woman looks like. By then I knew failure was OK (sometimes); I accepted it was fine to show a more vulnerable side (occasionally); but, most importantly, I was mentored by an extremely generous, impressive and diverse group of nurturing female bosses who encouraged my own, individual take on confidence and allowed me to learn from my mistakes.
And that, for me, is the crux of the issue: if you have found your confidence, it is important you support other women as they find theirs. As we put this Confidence Issue together and news of Kim Kardashian West’s place on its cover was leaked, I noted some people questioning our choice, querying Kim’s credentials as a successful woman and ours as a feminist magazine. I wish women would not judge other women in this critical way. Everyone is entitled to their opinion; but for me, Kim’s success should be applauded, not sneered at or, indeed, denigrated. She is the perfect face for an issue devoted to self-belief. She has built a staggeringly influential business empire and inspired many young women to be more confident about their bodies. And let us remember, no one woman can embody all the hopes, beliefs and ideals of everywoman.
It would be great to recognise the value of what each of us does individually rather than continually comparing ourselves – and then illogically deciding somehow we don’t measure up. I think ‘if she can do it, I can too’ is a better approach, and I hope that when we next carry out a survey on womanhood, we can rely on you to sow the seeds of a revolution in self-belief. How liberating would that feel?
All photos by Jean-Baptiste Mondino