Some 10 years ago, when he worked for a corporate company in London, Dr Darren Thomas Baker saw that a confidence course was taking place in-house.
“I remember thinking, ‘Gosh, I could really do with going on a confidence course to progress in my career’. I had a conversation with my mentor at that time; these were people more senior in the organisation who looked after our careers. But when I asked him, it transpired that the course was only for women.”
This was Baker’s “first interaction” with the promotion of confidence at work. Some years passed, he made a career move into academia and lecturing on business in society in University College Dublin. (He has since gone on to Monash University, Melbourne.) Along the way, Baker observed “the saturation of confidence in our personal and working lives”.
The beauty industry uses it to sell products to women — “Dove is an obvious example” — and women are advised to ‘lean in’ and to adopt ‘power poses’ ahead of interviews and meetings.
He noticed how confidence was “always a good thing. And I think anything that we assume is good always has to be held with some suspicion”.
Baker’s suspicions were well founded. For his PhD, he conducted psychoanalytically informed, in-depth interviews with 30 male and 36 female senior leaders who work as directors, partners and executives in accounting and finance in the UK and found that not only is confidence gendered, but it is weaponised against women and other underrepresented groups.
“It’s Darren’s research but I suppose I had the lived experience of seeing women counselled around confidence — negotiating that knife-edge — so I could contextualise the research. I was a partner at Deloitte for 10 years,” says Bourke. “If you go into any of the large multinationals around the world, they will all have a confidence-building programme for women. It’s still going on today.”
Baker describes confidence as “a distraction” from the real structural workplace issues that prevent women from progressing. “Confidence is used politically as a way to continue processes of inequality,” he says, and it is quite the damning statement.
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