Is being competent enough for a woman to be noticed and receive advancement in her career? Research has shown that although competence is necessary, it is often overlooked if it is not paired with confidence. It’s not enough to be good at what you do; confidence matters just as much as competence, write authors Katty Kay and Claire Shipman in their book, The Confidence Code: The Science and Art of Self-Assurance — What Women Should Know.

“Underqualified and underprepared men don’t think twice about leaning in. Overqualified and overprepared, too many women still hold back,” the authors write.“And the confidence gap is an additional lens through which to consider why it is women don’t lean in.”

The word confidence is defined in the Oxford dictionary as “a feeling of self-assurance arising from an appreciation of one’s own abilities or qualities.” According to Kay and Shipman, confidence is part science (biologically how one is wired) and part art (that which can be designed). This last part, the “art” element, can be developed and groomed. Confidence is not just a feeling that you are good the way you are and can do whatever you set your mind to. Confidence is more of an attitude with which you view and interact with the world.

If confidence can be acquired, as Kay and Shipman argue, what are we doing at our Christian universities to help our female students acquire the confidence they need to succeed in the marketplace?

Kay and Shipman call out “confidence cousins,” such as self-esteem, optimism, self-compassion, and self-efficacy. These are closely related to confidence, but do not fully encapsulate it..

For example, parents may — consciously or unconsciously — nurture a confidence that has shallow roots, having been fertilized with lots of praise and participation trophies. A shallow self-esteem is a ripe environment for a false confidence that Kay and Shipman claim to be even more harmful than just plain old low self-esteem.

This loss of confidence is not biological — it is learned, and it seems to be learned during a particular period of life. The women’s brand, Always, produced a short video showing young girls and young women separately talking about what it means to do something “like a girl” Always-Like a Girl Video. The contrast in responses between the young girls (ages 9-13) and young women is striking, and makes one wonder, “What happened?” The young girls show a relaxed confidence and optimism when asked what it means to do anything “like a girl.” But the young women’s view is decidedly less positive, interpreting doing something “like a girl” as doing less than the best.

This issue strikes close to home for me. Biola students participated in a UCLA/HERI College Senior Survey in 2014, and the Biola female students in the study rated themselves lower on academic ability, math ability and intellectual confidence than their male counterparts. In reality, these women were earning higher GPAs than the men in the study.

This pattern is not just a Biola issue: A Cornell University study indicated that men tend to overestimate their abilities and performance, while women tend to underestimate theirs. But the performance of those in the study showed no difference between genders in the quality or quantity of abilities.

What is promising is that women gain confidence over time. As a woman gains more experience, there is an increase in her confidence. How can we shorten this onramp to confidence?

Although there is no exact checklist that will guarantee an increase in self-confidence, Kay and Shipman list four things that can help one to grow in this area and narrow the confidence gap:

  • Think less. Since this is a mindset and attitude, don’t get stuck ruminating. Learn to let things roll off. Now, as believers in Christ, this is where speaking truth to ourselves is so important. In 2 Chronicles 32:8, Hezekiah, the king of Judah, needed to encourage his people. He spoke truth to them: “’With him is only the arm of flesh, but with us is the Lord our God to help us and to fight our battles.’ And the people gained confidence….” Hebrews 13:6 is another verse that holds an encouraging reminder: “So we say with confidence, ‘The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can mere mortals do to me?’”

  • Take action. Don’t let perfectionism keep you from moving forward. How many people do you know who have missed out on opportunities in life because everything did not line up perfectly? It has been seen that male colleagues will take more risks, while women wait until they are perfectly ready and perfectly qualified. This pause slows their progress.

  • Nonverbals matter. Be aware of the nonverbals in your life that speak to you. Even how you dress and groom yourself has an impact on how you operate. Your posture speaks to you, as does how you walk. Little tweaks in caring for yourself and being aware of how you carry yourself can go a long way in presenting yourself as more confident.

  • Be careful of the stories you tell yourself. Attributing problems internally, rather than being honest about external attributes that contributed, will have a negative impact on confidence. For instance, rather than thinking you are not good enough to complete a task, you should acknowledge that it was a tough project.

Authenticity is a word we hear often today. However, as believers, knowing who we are in Christ is our most authentic identity. Confidence solely in self is a trap, and understanding that all we have is from the Lord sets a good foundation. There isn’t a gift or talent we possess that is not from Him, and living out these gifts in stewardship is a powerful thing. Jeremiah 17:7 reminds us, “But blessed is the one who trusts in the Lord, whose confidence is in Him.”

Many in the world find their confidence in their degrees, work resume, appearance, wealth, or in some popular-today-gone-tomorrow quality that the world values. This is where the truth of Psalm 20:7 is important to possess: “Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the Lord our God.” Amen!