The other day, I watched a colleague give a speech. Afterwards, I praised her delivery, command of the stage, and clear organization of her topics. She had felt that the speech hadn’t gone well, and after hearing my comments, she reconnected to her strengths as a professional speaker and replied:

“I don’t want to be egotistical, but I know I interact with audiences really well and always am able to get laughs, loud applause, and positive evaluations. Thanks for reminding me of the strengths of my presentation.”

I agreed with her, but wondered why she had to preface her strong positive remarks with “I don’t want to be egotistical, but…” Would a man have proffered such a negating phrase? I think not—at least it’s not the norm for men.

However, why is it the norm for women?

In a previous blog I discussed ways women over apologize due to gender stereotypic norms. These gender norms of women as weak and submissive, and men as strong and dominant also infiltrate self-perceptions about performance. In turn, these self-perceptions directly connect to levels of self-confidence. Because women are conditioned to see themselves as less capable than men, they have more of a difficult time obtaining, and sustaining, high levels of confidence.

This gender gap in confidence is thoroughly explored in the recent book “The Confidence Code: The Science and Art of Self-Assurance—What Women Should Know” by Kay and Shipman. They found that men consistently overrated their performance on a variety of tasks or tests, while women underrated their results—yet all the while they both performed equally well. Additionally, they shared that men were more confident than women in applying for promotions—highlighting how men routinely asked for a promotion when they felt they met 60% of the criteria, while women waited until they met 100% of it.

Most striking about this research is women’s obsessive need, more so than men, to be perfect and flawless in completing a task or test. This perfectionism inhibits women’s sense of accomplishment, and increases their overly critical self-evaluation and fear of other’s assessments. It can become a negative feedback loop. As women fail to be perfect, they do not feel good enough and their confidence remains low. Low confidence, in turn, prevents a woman from feeling good about her accomplishments and touting her successes.

My colleague’s speech wasn’t perfect—but it was strong, clear, and good enough. Women can set high standards for themselves, but can also realize that good enough is often just as good, if not better than, what is required.

If you struggle to speak out about your strengths and accomplishments, chances are you also battle with perfectionism. Focus instead on progress rather than perfection to help you celebrate the accomplishments along the path. Here are a list of pithy tips to help you boost your confidence with not getting everything 100% picture perfect:

Progress not perfection tips:

  • Recognize it’s okay to fail
  • Create small manageable goals and take baby steps
  • Take action in a situation rather than waiting for the situation to improve
  • Use positive self-talk when something doesn’t go as planned
  • Flip the script on shaming comments and thoughts
  • Focus on moving forward rather than staying stuck in the problem
  • Find opportunities to laugh at yourself—lovingly
  • Breathe