hurdling the “confidence gap”

On my blog, I talk a lot about the inequalities women face and the imbalance that seems to be ever apparent. There are lots of factors that play into the injustices but one of the reasons that may not be as apparent is the “confidence gap”. Think about the last time you received a compliment. For many women, it’s so hard to say “thank you” that we actually turn to self- deprication. I have a friend who is so unbelievably crafty, you guys. The stuff she churns out (wreaths, signs, freaking lemonade stands) looks so unique and charming and yet she is often so critical of her own work. She’ll point out a mis-stroke of a paintbrush or where something doesn’t line up properly. Of course I never even noticed any perceived flaws because her work is amazing and I am in awe that someone could turn pieces of wood and fabric into a headboard with such ease. I have never been crafty like that.

The confidence gap is detrimental in the workforce. From my own personal experience, there have been times I didn’t pursue job opportunities because I thought someone “more qualified” or “better suited” would most definitely be selected for the position even when I literally met all of the qualifications for the job. This is in contrast to my male counterparts who feel entitled to new opportunities for growth at work.

Relatedly, men who are underqualified for a position might still apply while women who are overqualified will still hold back unless they meet every requirement noted. Women generally underestimate their abilities while men tend to, you guessed it, overestimate theirs. “There’s just a natural sort of feeling among the women that they will not get a prestigious job, so why bother trying,” says Victoria Brescoll, professor at Yale’s School of Management. “Or they think that they are not totally competent in the area, so they’re not going to go for it. They end up going into less competitive fields, like human resources or marketing,” she said. “They don’t go for finance, investment banks, or senior-track faculty positions.”

So where do the disparities come from? To find out, you have to go all the way back to grade school. Girls are rewarded for being good, quiet girls and boys are rewarded for being pushy and assertive. Society perpetuates these gender roles and it hurts us in the long run; we can’t live up to our full potential. Boys on the playground tend to roughhouse and tease each other more often and are therefore more resilient which plays out later in life as they are better risktakers than women. Women also tend to take criticism to heart and let it affect them negatively while men will absorb it and move on. I personally have been known to shed a few tears in a bathroom stall over criticism in the workplace and have become discouraged and felt out of place.

What can be done to bridge the confidence gap? We need to encourage our daughters to raise their hands in the classroom and be confident in their abilities. I’ve talked about this before in my blog but not putting our children in pretty little gender boxes is also crucial. Encourage girls and boys to participate in sports, spelling, math… Everything. We need our children to be courageous in all arenas. It might seem obvious but in the workplace, the biggest step we need to take to solve the confidence gap is action. When we sit back and do nothing, we are draining our confidence by our inaction. We become unsure of ourselves, insecure, and hesitant. When you simply DO, it can bolster your confidence. You have to take that chance. Men do it and so can you. When you take those chances, you are also inspiring other women to take chances and do the same. I also think it is imperative for us to be supportive of other women at work. We can help each other bridge the confidence gap by mentoring one another and sending positive energy their way so that they might take those chances that are necessary to grow in their careers. We need to see more women taking risks because it’s hard to be what you can’t see. Let’s get started.

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