It's About Confidence
con-fi-dence [kon-fi-duhns] - noun
Belief in oneself and one's powers or abilities.
My mother has been playing Bridge for years (well, decades actually). If you've never played, it takes card games like Hearts and Euchre to the next level. You play with a partner. There is lingo one needs to learn, and there are rules and etiquette by which players must absolutely abide, especially when it comes to bidding. Once the contract is set (the minimum number of tricks to be taken in the trump suit or no-trump), you need to be sharp. You need to keep track of what cards have been played. If it's "your hand," you need to use this information, along with your partners signals to you during the bidding process, so that you draw out the support of his or her hand so that you can make yours. It's a game where the word "finesse" is a verb, as in "to finesse," thereby trapping an opponent's high card. Lost yet? Exactly.
This game requires knowledge, skill, memory, and confidence. So, when my mother travelled with a group of women to participate in the Las Vegas Regional Bridge Tournament, the pressure was on. She played on three separate days. The first two, she and her partner did not deliver stellar performances. But the third day, well the third day they won their 0-300 Stratified Pair section and came second overall for that group. My mother's comment? "It was good for my confidence."
In late June, tennis great Roger Federer went out in the second round of Wimbledon, a grand slam major that he has won a seven times. It's a tournament at which he feels at home and is loved almost as much as Great Brit Andy Murray. Going into Wimbledon, Federer was not having a good year; he had won only a single tournament to-date. In the aftermath of the unexpected loss, sports commentator Mary Jo Fernandes may have put it best; Wimbledon was the place where Rodger Federer was hoping to get his confidence back.
The same day, blogger and angel investor Joanne Wilson (aka Gotham Gal) published a post, Men vs Women. The premise of the post was her response to a question she is often asked: what difference, if any, does she see between men and women entrepreneurs. Her response was rooted in observations she had made at two recent meetings with male entrepreneurs, and how the sexes tend to participate in and act during these types of encounters. Her take was thought-provoking. Men approached the meetings with "lightness," which she attributed to confidence. Of one of the conversations, Ms. Wilson wrote:
They walked in the room and we had an immediate connection. We sat and chatted about a variety of things for about two hours. It was great. They were both confident, smart and light. Light meaning that there was no intensity, our conversation had minimal effort.
She contrasted this with her thoughts on similar interactions with women:
Women are much more serious, they provide data and information, they are not light. Of course this is a generalization. I'd like to see women be more freeflowing. They would not be sitting around talking about their business unless they were succeeding at what they are doing.
Ms. Wilson concluded by suggesting that:
There is so much banter about men not investing in women and I continue to wonder is it the businesses that women build or is it the approach in the meeting. Maybe it is a combination of both but more women need to be bold and confident with a spring in their step. That spring makes people want to have what you are having. It makes anyone want to come back and chat again.
I find this fascinating and mildly troublesome, in that for one to be at the top of her game, which these women clearly are or they would not have launched their businesses and they would not be funded, it requires confidence. You may not have it every day or at every meeting, but you're going to bring it more times than not. To return to tennis for a moment, Serena Williams and Maria Sharapova are just as capable of bringing confidence to the court as Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal. Taking this line of thinking to the realm of pop culture, Shakira appeared no less confident than Usher or Adam Levine on "The Voice."
Why the difference when, all things being equal, it comes to women versus men in business? Is it insecurity regarding their ideas and execution, or is it something more specific? I think Ms. Wilson might be onto something when she says that women "are more serious, they provide data and information." Data and information are like armor, in this case defending against the fear that they don't have the deep knowledge and understanding of their business when it comes to the projections, financials, money. I see it in my dealings, women not having invested the time to get comfortable with and really understand the numbers. This, I think, is at the root of the confidence problem, whether at an investor meeting or in day-to-day operations. Because, it's the confidence that comes from really knowing your stuff that allows you to "play loose."
I spoke to my brother not long ago, and he recounted the story of one of my nieces, the 8-year-old, whose instrument of choice is the drums. Apparently, there was an end-of-year concert at the elementary school last weekend at which she was set to perform. When her turn came to play a song with the band, "Yellow" by Coldplay, she grabbed her music, strode onstage, put on her headphones, and started drumming in front of an audience of 75. At one point, she lost one of her drumsticks. No matter. She simply picked it up and kept on going. When it was over, she came down off the stage, went home with the family, and jumped in the pool.