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Women’s Confidence Report 2021: the largest global study into women’s Confidence

The 2021 Women’s Confidence Report is the largest global study into women’s Confidence. With 11,176 respondents surveyed from 11 countries: Australia, Britain, China, France, Germany, Hong Kong, Japan, Korea, Mexico, Russia and USA.

The results are fascinating, and I’m going to unpack the most interesting elements for you.

The study used a mixture of online surveys, long-form interviews and expert interviews to measure women’s Confidence in 14 areas (more on this below).

First up, it’s important to note that there’s a wide variety of women’s experiences in this report. It’s comprehensive, and it looks at a lot of cultural and social elements involved in Confidence. This is because a person’s Confidence is often strongly influenced by the culture in which they live.

The Women’s Confidence Report is an incredible piece of academic research; but the report includes findings that contradict what I see in my work helping women to grow their Confidence.

There’s a strong push through this report that:

“Confidence is relational: you can’t increase it on your own” – Report

“We thought we could have confidence, own it, grow it by ourselves, when in fact it must be shared, inspired and grown with others.”

This suggests that women who don’t have a strong support network will not be able to build their Confidence. 

I disagree. 

Your network is a key part to enhancing your Confidence, especially if you want to excel in your career. And ‘Your Network’ is the third step in my 3-step Confidence Formula, but it’s the third step for a reason; it plays a significant part but it’s not where you start. At least it’s not in my experience or in that of many other professional and personal development coaches, mentors and experts around the world. 

Based on my experience, Confidence is a mix of nature (genes) and nurture (environment and experiences) and can be built internally. You can increase your Confidence on your own and without external support and validation. 

In this blog I’m going to share what I loved and found fascinating about the Women’s Confidence Report, and also unpack the parts that I see differently in my work helping women grow their Confidence and conquer Imposter Syndrome.

Confidence is all about action

Whether or not you feel confident in a particular moment, the action is what matters.

Felt nervous before a big presentation, then nailed it? Your body’s hormones give you a rush of dopamine (the reward hormone) for taking that confident action. You’ve trained your brain, so that next time you have a big presentation, you’ll feel more confident.

The Women’s Confidence Report found the same; “the more confident women are, the easier it is for them to act”.

A screen shot from the Women's Confidence Report with text that reads: Why does women’s confidence matter? Because the more confident women are, the easier it is for them to act. Confidence empowers women to talk, write, raise their hands, raise their fists, get involved in politics and even start a business. A lack of confidence can just as easily prevent women from thriving on a personal level as it can inhibit them from contributing to their communities in a meaningful way. These matters impact us all. Because when women thrive, societies prosper.
From the Women’s Confidence Report, page 3.

When thousands of individual women take one confident action each, everyone benefits. 

One woman starts a business. 

Another woman stands up for what she believes in. 

Another woman takes a risk that helps her peers. 

Confident actions help women to thrive and reach their goals.

“When women thrive, societies prosper” 

Quote from page 3 of the Women’s Confidence Report

Women’s Confidence comes from 14 different sources

There are cultural and societal trends towards certain sources of Confidence, and your experience is your own personal blend of factors. 

Not surprisingly, your unique experiences in childhood can greatly influence your level of Confidence as an adult; in positive or negative ways.

Screen shot from the Women's Confidence Report with text that reads: Key Learning: Self-confidence is acquired from a very early age. It is initiated by the process that leads children to perceive themselves as individuals.
From the Women’s Confidence Report, page 36.

The Women’s Confidence Report found 14 sources of Confidence, ranging from external factors to internal factors. (See pages 49-53 of the report for more information).

The report found that two of the most common sources of confidence were Routine and Support System, and these sources were repeated across many cultures, especially western cultures.

Few women feel extremely confident

Just 3.4% of global participants rated their Confidence at 9-10. 

Screen shot of a chart from the Women's Confidence Report on page 56-57. The chart shows the percentage of respondents in each range of confidence.

Extremely low (scores of 0 to 4) and low (scores of 4 to 6.9) confidence level, global average 66.14%. 
Moderate (scores of 7 to 8.9) confidence level global average 33.14%.
High (scores of 9 to 10) confidence level global average 3.43%.
Women’s Confidence Report, “Linking numbers to feelings” section, pages 56-57.

In fact, there were more women (4.7%) who rated their Confidence as extremely low at 3-4 out of 10. 

The largest group (24.4%) rated their Confidence as Low at 6-6.9 out of 10.

I am not surprised to see these confidence scores so low. In 15 years across my corporate career, the biggest barrier I saw holding women back wasn’t a lack of skill, talent, desire or drive, it was a lack of Confidence caused by Imposter Syndrome or other means. 

Women’s Confidence around the world

Here are the women’s self-rated Confidence levels broken down by countries in the study:

CountryConfidence rating
Japan4.9
Korea5.7
Hong Kong5.9
United Kingdom6.1
France6.1
Australia6.3
Germany6.5
Russia6.6
USA6.7
China7.1
Mexico7.7
Women’s self-reported confidence rating, broken down by country, as an average for approximately 1000 participants per country. From the Women’s Confidence Report, pages 56-57.

Where are the most confident women?

Mexican Women are the most self-confident women in the study—with an average of 7.7 out of 10.

That’s right: the most confident group of women in the study still only rate their Confidence at 7.7 out of 10 (on average).

Australian women avoid failure, at the expense of not trying

Australian women’s Confidence rated at 6.3, with the highest sources of Confidence (out of the 14 categories) being Routine (7.2), Intuition (6.7), and Support System (6.7). 

In a society where everyone is responsible for their own achievements, Australian women feel that they must avoid failure at any cost, even if it means not trying.”
Women’s Confidence Report, Australian Confidence section, pages 62-63.

This means most Australian women would rather not try at all, if there was a chance of failing. And by not trying, they’re not taking that first action step that builds Confidence for the future. 

Despite being Australian and studying Confidence for more than 15 years, this data on Australian Women did surprise me. 

Australian Confidence appears on pages 62-63.

American women seek external validation to boost their Confidence

American women rate their Confidence score at 6.7. Their key components are Routine (7.4), Support System (7.3), and Intuition (7.1). 

The key statistic from the American data is the majority of American women admit to needing external validation to build Confidence. 

Ideally, we don’t want external validation to be the key measure of Confidence. 

Because if you’re not surrounded by people, you don’t want a need for validation to be your key Confidence driver, as it will be mostly out of your control. 

American Confidence appears on pages 60-61.

To conclude the report, there was a series of interviews and opinions from women around the world. 

Here are some key insights I wanted to share with you

French author, Adélaïde Bon, shared her story of childhood trauma and the road to self-confidence for the Women’s Confidence Report.

“A significant amount of Bon’s confidence is based on her ability to gain perspective on herself. For a long time, Bon suffered from an imposter syndrome that prevented her from accepting others’ kindness. What helped her to overcome this was accepting to see herself through others’ eyes. This is why Bon’s support system was crucial to her building back the confidence that was taken away from her in her [abusive] childhood.” (Page 151) and I can personally relate to this story too. 

I agree that social support systems and networks play a fundamental part in a woman’s Confidence, and it seems that for Bon, support networks were critical.

But support networks cannot be the leading factor alone if we as women want to build unshakeable Confidence. 

“Don’t wait for other people’s validation” – Allison Abrams

What’s interesting is that some of the expert interviews contradict the report’s main premise where it says “Confidence is relational, you can’t increase it on your own”

New York Psychotherapist Allison Abrams puts the emphasis back on the self rather than social assimilation.

“Abrams believes that confidence comes from the inside. She finds that women with the most stable confidence are not dependent on the feedback of others, or at least not entirely. For her, confidence is about ‘being comfortable with who you are at core, regardless of what happens externally’.” (Page 153)

I completely agree with Abrams here. Women can increase their Confidence on their own, without external validation.

Similarly, Dr Marcela Tiburcio, a psychologist in Mexico City, says:

Screen shot from the Women's Confidence Report, with text that reads: "Self confidence is about setting goals and achieving them without depending on anyone else, while knowing how to get support from those around you." Dr. Marcela Tiburcio
Women’s Confidence Report, page 149

So in conclusion:

Most importantly, the focus is on the individual – the self – taking initiative for building Confidence. Not discounting getting help from others or leaning on a network, but making sure that external sources are not the only driver for you chasing your goals or taking confident action. 

Confidence is far more complex than many people realise. 

But the fundamental thing that cements Confidence is action. 

Support systems play a critical role but in my experience they should never be the lead driver because they are not always within your control. 

Ultimately, the driver is you. YOU take control of your Confidence.

The Women’s Confidence Report found that third party networks, relationships and other support systems can help and make you FEEL more secure and confident. 

But if YOU never take action then you will never grow your Confidence or benefit from what your Confidence can help you achieve. 

A woman who is confident is truly an unstoppable force and I hope that through my work and the work of many around the world we can see those global Confidence averages continue to rise. 

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