Hurdling 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-deprecation. For example, one of my friends is so unbelievably talented at crafting yet she is often so critical of her own work. She constantly points out the mis-stroke of her paintbrush or where something doesn’t line up properly instead of being proud of what she's created.

This confidence gap, in which women fail to believe in themselves and/or the quality of their work, is detrimental in the professional world. I know there have been times when I didn’t pursue opportunities because I thought someone “more qualified” or “better suited” would most definitely be selected even when I literally met all of the qualifications for the job or role.

And yet so many of my male counterparts feel entitled to new opportunities for growth at work. Or, what's more, even men who are under-qualified for a position might still apply while women who are overqualified will often hold themseles back unless they meet every possible requirement and then some. Women generally underestimate their abilities while men tend to  overestimate theirs.

According to Victoria Brescoll, professor at Yale's School of Management, “There’s just a natural sort of feeling among the women that they will not get a prestigious job, so why bother trying. 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? Many experts on the topic note that we can find that answer in grade school. Girls are rewarded for being good and quiet while boys are rewarded for being pushy and assertive. Society perpetuates these gender roles and it hurts us in the long run, disabling us from living 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 over criticism and have become discouraged by it.

In order to bridge the confidence gap, we need to start early and encourage the young women in our lives to raise their hands in the classroom and be confident in their abilities while also resisting the tendency to put our children in pretty little gender boxes is also crucial. We need to encourage girls and boys to be courageous in all arenas and to act on their instincts. Women are bred to be insecure, and hesitant and would greatly benefit by taking more chances and acting based on our intuition. Taking chances can also inspire other women to do the same. We can also help each other bridge the confidence gap by being supportive of other women, by mentoring one another and sending positive energy to others  so that they might take those chances that are necessary to grow.

But at the end of the day, we need to see more women gaining the confidence to take risks because it’s hard to be what you can’t see. Let’s get started.

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Tasha S
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