Category Archives: Women & Tech

The luxury of overconfidence when you have privilege

Chart showing the comparison between UK men's and women's confidence about beating several animals in a fight unarmed. The highest confidence is for beating a rat with 77% men vs 57% women, and the lowest is for a Gorilla, 2% men vs 1% women.
Chart from YouGov UK.  

(5 min read)

As a woman in tech, every day I’m reminded that my problem is a lack of confidence. I’m constantly showered with newsletters, offers of webinars and coaching, as well as articles telling me that confidence is a fix-all from the gender pay gap to solving the shortage of women in CXO roles.

All that in spite that there is no correlation between confidence and effective leadership! When I mention this fact, most people look puzzled. I don’t know why. It’s not like we have a “confid-ometer” that enables us to correlate our leaders’ confidence to the success of their initiatives.

What’s more, I’m adamant that our economic, political, and social problems are often rooted in overconfident leaders. If in doubt, only look at how the overconfidence of some political leaders has resulted in disastrous outcomes on the flight against the COVID-19 pandemic. I wish they could have been much less confident and more humble to follow the advice of others that actually know better.

Still, people are resistant. It’s so easy to attribute to self-doubt the lack of CEOs that are disabled, non-White, or self-identify as women…

Early this year, Caroline Perez Criado’s newsletter came to help me! She shared the results of a survey by YouGov on Which animals could Britons beat in a fight?

Guess what? The results show that 28% men vs 9% women think they could beat “unarmed” an eagle in a fight. Gets better, 12% of men vs 2% of women think they could beat a King Cobra, again, unarmed! By the way, in the same article there is also a reference to the US study and how compares with the UK. Priceless!

We can continue to assume that because some people think they can beat a cobra, they can actually beat it. Or, we can confront the myth that confidence is a predictor of effective leadership.

What should we care?

I’ve been coaching and mentoring for years university students, direct reports, peers, clients… And confidence is a topic that comes often. “If I were more confident… ” People talk about it as it was an unreachable superpower such as being invisible or capable to fly.

Confidence is simply about how we feel about a decision. If we feel good, we tell ourselves that we’re confident. When we feel bad or unsure, we lack confidence. So far, so good.

The problem is that we assume that this particular feeling is a good predictor of success. And it’s not. This delusion has even a name!

The Dunning-Kruger effect is “a cognitive bias whereby people with low ability, expertise, or experience regarding a certain type of a task or area of knowledge tend to overestimate their ability or knowledge. Some researchers also include in their definition the opposite effect for high performers: their tendency to underestimate their skills”.

A chart of confidence vs competence with the title “Dunning-Kruger effect”. The curve starts a zero confidence and competence. Then, it increases rapidly in confidence and very little in competence to drop very quickly in confidence as competence increases. Then, the curve continues to increase slowly in confidence and compentence until it reaches a plateau. The plateau is lower in confidence than the peak reached previously.
Confidence vs competence: The Dunning-Krugger effect (Patricia Gestoso).

Moreover, we reverence so much confidence that we have made it a key prerequisite to be considered for any meaningful progression in our careers. I cannot recall how many times I’ve heard hiring manager justify their choice of candidate because the person “looked” confident, even if the other candidate had a superior CV.

What if Instead of pushing people to do power poses to boost their confidence, we demanded our overconfident leaders to demonstrate with data and facts the bases of their confidence in their strategy?

What if hiring managers asked candidates to share the evidence supporting their level of confidence rather than assumed it correlates with their competence?

Let’s stop fixing women and underrepresented groups’ confidence. Our problem is not confidence but overconfidence.

Before I go

For reflection

In this 4-min article, Mary Fashik – a queer disabled woman of color – and Corie Walsh – a White disabled woman with wealth privilege – share the regular erasure, oppression, and disrespect they experience as disabled women. They also discuss how the pandemic was a missed opportunity for the world to learn some of the lessons the disabled community has long known like “collective care is the way forward”.

A boost of energy

On International Women’s Day, the First Minister of Scotland, Nicola Sturgeon, issued a posthumous apology for the “historical injustice” of witch hunts. From 1563 to 1736, an estimated 4,000 people in Scotland were accused of witchcraft, of which about 80% were women. “These women were targeted because they were vulnerable, some of them owned land that others – usually men – wanted access to, or they were unmarried or widowed, or they looked or spoke or acted differently.”[reference] Two-thirds of those accused were executed.

For comparison, during the worldwide famous trials of Salem, 200 people were accused and 14 women and 5 men were hanged.

News from me

I’m writing a book and I need your help!

As some of you know, my DEI work was prompted by my dismay at realizing in 2015 that fantastic women that had started with me had either quit tech tired of fighting over and over the same battles or given unappealing jobs when they came back from maternity leave – I don’t have children myself.

Unfortunately, little has changed. Seven years later, still, more than 40% of women that start in tech leave the sector.

So, this year I decided to write a book about how women succeed in tech worldwide. There are great books written about this topic focused on US corporations. I also believe we can learn a lot by casting a wider net. My first step? Asking those women what has made them stay and what they need to thrive in the next 5 years.

[ASK] I’d be immensely grateful if you could complete and/or share with your network of women in tech this short survey about your/their experiences at work.

What do I mean by “Women in Tech”? Women working in any function (R&D, HR, services, finance, CXO) in the tech sector (software, hardware…) or in tech-related functions in other sectors (e.g. IT, cybersecurity…).

Whilst the survey is anonymous, you’ll have the option to get involved in the project before submitting the form.

Thanks for your support!


Inclusion is a practice, not a certificate!