HomeLearning CenterHow Women Can Move Beyond ‘Fake It ‘til You Make It’

How Women Can Move Beyond ‘Fake It ‘til You Make It’

Originally published by Michelle Redfern for Women’s Agenda

Quick take career advice that is so often given to women, such as “fake it til you make it,” is highly problematic and ignores the fundamental criteria for career advancement.

As women, we generally can receive a lot of advice across various aspects of our lives., Sometimes, whether it’s wanted or not.

And when it comes to career and leadership advancement, the advice often looks like this: 

  • Self-promote
  • Speak up
  • Be assertive
  • Dress for success
  • Be authentic
  • Be [more] confident!
  • Fake it til you make it

I call this career advice The Confidence Conundrum because women want to be more confident or are told they need to be more confident. But women are less often told how to actually be more confident apart from “fake it til you make it.”

The advice to “fake it till you make it” implies that projecting an image of confidence is enough for a woman to succeed. It’s time to shift from telling women to be more confident to a focus on gaining and demonstrating critical business and leadership skills.  

The ‘fake it til you make it’ confidence advice fails to address the double standards and double binds that women face. The problem is that when women exhibit confidence, they can face adverse reactions and backlash, known as the likeability penalty. Or, as the graphic by artist Judy Horacek explains, ” What’s the difference between assertive and aggressive? Your gender!”

Does the “Fake it til You Make it” advice actually help women’s careers?

Given that the global leadership gender gap still yawns widely, and men hold nearly 70 per cent of all leadership roles in the world, it is worth asking if all this advice about confidence is helping or hindering women’s career advancement. 

The resounding answer is no. Career advice typically given to women fails to address the importance of developing the critical competencies required to advance their careers. Specifically, this includes business intelligence competencies such as business, strategic and financial acumen and an orientation towards success.

Here is another way of looking at the issue of confidence versus competence. Imagine you are having brain surgery. Do you want to be operated on by a brain surgeon who is confident or competent? Yes, it is an extreme example, but now consider what competencies are needed for career and leadership advancement, and how might you demonstrate those instead of faking them? 

There is a better formula for career advancement

My wise friend, mentor, and business partner, Susan Colantuono, says there are over 258 million pieces of advice online, most of which are the same thing, over and over again. She suggests we go beyond giving conventional advice to women, and I agree. So when it comes to confidence, here is advice that goes way beyond ‘fake it til you make it’: 

“Without business, financial and strategic acumen, women have moved to Rome without speaking Italian. To feel confident in business, we must speak the language. Again, without addressing this fundamental fact, women will continue to feel challenged when building confidence.”

Business, strategic, and financial acumen is business intelligence, aka BQ. BQ competencies make up nearly 60 per cent of the skills required for executive roles, increasing to over 80 per cent for C-Suite roles. 

So, the better advice to women is to develop and learn how to demonstrate BQ skills.

Leaders must coach and develop women in these skills, rather than just suggested we “be more confident”. Leadership coaching that is strategic and targeted will result in women reaching their full potential as well as the organisations they work for. 

There must be more focus on coaching and developing women to obtain critical leadership skills and on how to demonstrate their skills. That’s why faking it til you make it is insufficient (actually terrible) career advice.

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