Aug 06

“The Confidence Code”: Kay and Shipman Advise Working Women

It’s more important to success than competence (yes, really) and people who have it are happier, healthier and more fulfilled. Most important, it’s a choice you can make. We can all build more confidence, you just need the code. Katty Kay, co-author of The Confidence Code

The Confidence Code: The Science and Art of Self-Assurance–What Women Should Knowby Claire Shipman and Katty Kay, direct their 2014 book mainly to working women.

As stated on their blog, the authors learned that confidence is not “about throwing your weight around or talking over people or always being the first to jump in. Confidence isn’t an attitude at all. You know that old expression about something being all in your head? Well, when it comes to confidence the opposite is true. Confidence is about the actions you take not the postures you strike.”


A few things Kay and Shipman learned from their research, as reported by Jessica Bennett, Time:

  • When a professional endeavor goes wrong, women are more likely to blame themselves. Yet when something goes right, they credit circumstance – or other people – for their success. (Men do the opposite.)
  • Women are more likely than men to be perfectionists, holding themselves back from answering a question, applying for a new job, asking for a raise, until they’re absolutely 100 percent sure we can predict the outcome. (Women applied for a promotion only when they met 100 percent of the qualifications. Men applied when they met 50 percent.)
  • Women are a quarter as likely as men to negotiate a raise. We doubt our opinions and begin our sentences with “I don’t know if this is right, but—.” We are more prone to “rumination” than men – which causes us to overthink and overanalyze. (Sound familiar?)

Why is this the case? Is it nature? Nurture? Interestingly, some of the male-female differences that matter aren’t about socialization. Joann Weiner, Washington Post, notes the role of a particular hormone, for example, in quoting Kay: “Basically testosterone, which obviously men have more of, gives you a higher tolerance for risk. Studies show that traders make riskier bets on days they have more testosterone in their bodies. Risk is a key factor in confidence — you have to take risks and be prepared to fail to expand your confidence.”

There are also genetic contributions, not one specific confidence gene but some that affect one’s level of confidence.


The authors describe NATS (negative automatic thoughts) that are believed to affect women in particular.

Their formula is “Three positive thoughts to one negative thought.” For each automatic negative thought, think of three positive things you did—and practice this regularly. “This exercise does work because it puts the minor failure in perspective.”

Because of the brain’s plasticity, even we older women can change the way our brains work.

Kay offers further advice on risk-taking. As told to Kerry Hannon, Forbes: “Go to the thing that is just a little bit hard, the unknown thing, the thing you have always found a little bit scary. Go for that job you always found a little bit difficult, run for PTA president, go to a party by yourself, stand up in speak in public when you haven’t done it before.”

Hannon lists her own favorite “microtips” from The Confidence Code:

1. Meditate. A calm brain is the ultimate confidence tool. It gives you an increased ability to control your emotions and be clear and calm about your goals.
2. Think small. Battle any feelings of being overwhelmed by breaking things down. Teasing out the individual parts of a challenge, and accomplishing even one-tenth of it, can give you a confidence boost…