February 23, 2022

Is Confidence the Secret to Success? Not Exactly.

By Jackie Ogden, PhD

In this New York Times article, Shani Orgad and Rosalind Gill discuss their book Confidence Culture which challenges the idea sold to women that self-esteem will set them free.

What a fascinating article, and I presume an equally fascinating book! 

The article’s premise is that sexism and misogyny are complicated, and that just as we have systemic racism in our world, we have systemic sexism. I noted, as one reader commented, that this article was placed in the Style section of The New York Times, which used to be called “the women’s pages,” with all the surrounding implications. The placement alone certainly makes a statement.

The authors suggest that the notion of systemic sexism is being pushed aside by the illusion that self-esteem and confidence are the solution to women’s problems, rather than addressing the true issues underlying sexism. By suggesting that the primary issue is women’s self-confidence, we’re removing the burden from society/men, and may in fact lead women to believe that sexism is their “fault.”   

Additionally, the authors question whether the confidence/self-esteem “solution” is actually in the reach of all women – that perhaps this solution works only for those of us with privilege. It brought to mind a very smart colleague who shared her incredible frustration with Sheryl Sandburg’s Lean In. The gist of her comments was that many of Sandburg’s points might work for white women of privilege, but likely not for women of color. 

Here’s my take: Addressing confidence/self-esteem as the primary factors key to a women’s success is clearly insufficient. And the argument that this may negate the underlying issues is compelling. This article will cause me to re-examine my approach to talking about leadership and sexism with women. 

But I don’t want to throw the baby out with the bathwater. Whether confidence and self-esteem are the silver bullet to women’s success is not the only issue. In my mind, confidence and self-esteem are critical to living a fulfilling life. I worry about imposter syndrome less because it keeps women from things, and more because it causes pain – generally unnecessary pain. People that are less confident generally don’t take as many risks and may not live life as fully. I recall being a young woman who was less than confident – I spent a great deal of time in my head worrying about things, and allowed worry to stop me from many things. I wouldn’t want to deprive anyone of feeling that they’re worthy, that they’re loveable, and – yes – that they’re as good as that other gender. 

Recent Insights

Women Shaping Culture

Women Shaping Culture

In honor of Women’s History Month, we’re featuring interviews of six women leaders who are shaping our culture and planet for the better.

read more

+49 856 9568 95


39 Lion Street

Your content goes here. Edit or remove this text inline or in the module Content settings. You can also style every aspect of this content in the module Design settings and even apply custom CSS to this text in the module Advanced settings.

Send Us a Message

Dr. Frederick Lahodny

Even though using “lorem ipsum” often arouses curiosity due to its resemblance to classical Latin, it is not intended to have meaning. Where text is visible in a document, people tend to focus on the textual content rather than upon overall presentation.