Too Confident or Not Confident Enough? How Women Need to Walk That Fine Line in Procurement

As a woman in procurement, do you ever feel like you’re not confident enough, but also worry about appearing too confident? Here’s how to walk the tightrope.

While there’s never been a better time to be a woman in procurement (we are, after all, closer to pay equity than ever before), it doesn’t mean that all is perfect when it comes to gender equality in procurement: women are, after all, still vastly underrepresented in procurement leadership. Then there is the confidence tightrope we have to walk daily – when society tells us not to be too confident or we’ll be seen as overbearing, but also make sure we’re confident enough or we’ll appear incapable or weak.

So, what can we do to change this? 

Could we, perhaps, collectively decide to be more confident at work and then, miraculously, more executive procurement opportunities and roles might manifest themselves?

If only it was that easy. 

When it comes to confidence, research shows some pretty startling things, especially when it comes to confidence. 

Can too much confidence be a bad thing? 

What does the career trajectory of a confident, successful person in procurement look like? Many would argue that it goes like this: 

A procurement analyst does extremely well at their job, so their success breeds confidence. That confidence, in turn, positively influences their performance, including how influential their manager and stakeholders perceive them to be. As a result, said confident, talented procurement analyst gets promoted ahead of their peers to a category manager. 

This cycle then repeats itself again and again and before you know it, you’re a CPO.

Unfortunately, research has found that being too confident (or overconfident) in your abilities – especially if you don’t have the talent to match – actually ends up catching up with you. 

People that are too confident might even put less effort into their work over time, meaning that they are less likely to succeed.

Is confidence weaponised against women?

So, what is the right amount of confidence? 

If you’re a woman in procurement, this question is particularly hard to answer and here’s why: confidence is often weaponised against women. 

The stereotypes are simply too tiresome to explore in detail here, but we’ve all heard them before. We’re told we need to ‘lean in’ to our careers, ‘stand our ground’ and ‘go for it no matter what.’ 

All this while gender stereotypes still dictate that we remain likeable, not domineering, and relationship focused.

We hear you asking, “but isn’t this a contradiction?”

It certainly is, and it’s one that researchers have found backfires. 

Ironically, when women present as assertive and extremely confident, people actually perceive them as putting on a ‘front’ and lacking confidence as a result.

How to be confident as a woman in procurement 

When contradictions abound, and you are being told that you can be too confident, how do we balance the fine line? 

Award-winning career advisor for women, Christie Hunter Arscott, says that if possible, women should choose courage over confidence. 

But what does this mean? 

Arscott says that one issue that does genuinely plague women more than men is self-doubt. 

This can manifest itself in many ways, including women only applying for new roles or promotions where they meet 100% of the criteria, or only putting their hands up for opportunities where they think they can commit 100% and do the best possible job. 

It’s in these situations, Arscott says, that women need to choose courage. The courage to try going for that role or promotion. The courage to take up additional responsibilities or projects, even when you may not know how they’ll turn out. 

The courage to, ultimately, give things a try, no matter how you might feel. 

Women of procurement, we’d love to hear about where you’ve been courageous! Tell us in the comments below.  Receive ongoing support and mentorship by joining our global Women in Procurement program BRAVO in your region: EMEA, the Americas and the Asia-Pacific region.