BY JEN OLENICZAK BROWN
Women face different challenges in life. Quite literally, research has shown that the world is built for men and by men: from the average office being about five degrees too cold for women to function at their highest ability, all the way to the “standard” dust, hazard and eye mask, which was built to fit the average US male face shape, women deal with varying degrees of inequity in the world.
The Gender Gap is quite simply, the discrepancy between men and women. The phrase itself is vague and doesn’t specifically connect with any one challenge that women face. This three-part series will include the upcoming two issues, and will detail one gap, a thought exercise around it and some ideas on overcoming it. The first: Confidence.
In 2011, a study from the Institute of Leadership and Management in the UK found that half of the female respondents reported self-doubt about their job performance when they were asked about how confident they feel in their professions. Less than a third of male respondents reported self-doubt when asked the same question.
This isn’t the only or first study that indicates a Confidence Gap between men and women that affects women in their lives – take a moment to Google the Confidence Gap to learn a bit more. Worse, the studies that dispute the Confidence Gap actually show that while women might be just as confident in their abilities and leadership as men, they are unable to promote themselves, which leads to them asking for less raises, negotiation, positions of leadership and more.
Even worse: in order to appear confident, studies show women have to not only be competent in what they do, they also have to be liked, and in order to be liked, they have to be nice. (Which, should have nothing to do with appearing confident.) This need for female niceness often leads to something called the “Backlash Effect” – an avoidance mechanism that women have developed, which leads to women self-promoting less because of perceived social consequences.
So… whew! What do we do with all of this? First, take a moment to see if confidence – either a lack of or the inability to show – has affected your life in a negative way or caused discomfort. Sit down and write without editing, and don’t hold back. Remember, you’re thinking about places or moments where you didn’t make a choice or move because of your confidence, or lack of.
What’s Confidence Anyway?
Before we can continue to work on confidence, we need to think about what it actually is to you – and individually you! Confidence for me will be different than confidence for you – and while we might perceive confidence as specific stereotypical characteristics, you have to see what that looks like on you. Take a few moments to think about what “being confident” means to you, and write down…
One Physical Action…
One Mental Thought and…
One Emotional Moment…
…That you exhibit or experience when you feel confident. For example, say when you feel confident, you walk with purpose, or you feel happy and driven.
When you know how you show confidence, think about what makes you feel confident. Accomplishing something big? Making the bed every morning? Getting a project finished on time?
Full stop: this might be hard for you – women have a Confidence Gap, remember? I was judging a scholarship competition and we were interviewing students for the final stage, and each judge was asking a question. Mine was: “What is an accomplishment that you’re proud of?” One of the other interviewers commented how much she didn’t like that particular question because, “It sounds like bragging.”
Being proud of yourself and showing confidence because of that pride is not bragging! As women, we go to that dark place a lot, unfortunately. We’re essentially undoing a lot of the stigma we might have about confidence.
Once you understand how you show confidence and what makes you feel confident, take some time to think about what you can do to bring more of that in your life. Don’t worry if you’re starting small: little rocks still cause ripples in the water, and a small change can have big effects.