Addressing The Confidence Gap

confidence gap


Mar. 8 2016, Published 2:30 a.m. ET

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When I was a little girl I was fearless. Whether playing basketball on the street, speaking my mind, or wearing whatever I deemed fashionable, I felt invincible.

Yet, as I grew older, my fearlessness was soon tested by teachers, peers, adults, and colleagues alike. Something happens to all women, a unifying force which challenges our confidence more and more. Whether by our looks, intelligence, skills, or opinions, without invitation, we are unanimously challenged.

While heartbreaking, we are not nearly as surprised as we should be. Reports from the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology discovered that no matter the country or culture, men triumph with higher self-esteem in comparison to women.

Yet, confidence affects life in every way. Case in point, promotions and negotiations – our money and independence. Findings show, women will not seek promotions, let alone jobs if they do not feel they fit all qualifications 100 percent. Men, on the other hand, will courageously seek the same risk, with only 60 percent of qualifications to offer. Linda Babock, author of Women Don’t Ask, similarly identified that men initiate salary negotiations four times more than women, who even when they do, ask for 30 percent less than men. The list of examples treads on.  

As Katty Kay and Claire Shipman point out in writing The Confidence Code, in general, men tend to think more highly of themselves than women. One example from the book pointed out that most “men go into everything just assuming that they’re awesome and thinking, ‘Who wouldn’t want me?’ – most of the men we interviewed, say they spend less time thinking about the possible consequences of failure,” writes Kay and Shipman. This level of awesome thinking transpires countlessly – essentially every time we use our brain.

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What makes this gap so dangerous is that confidence does not only apply to our careers and how much money we make. Think about it: feelings of assurance and fortitude shape us as human beings, through recurring actions and habits – how girls literally run the world. How we interact with one another, build each other up, chase our dreams, feel comfortable in our bodies, let alone, how we take care of ourselves – all such qualities are dependent on our confidence.

“The natural result of low confidence is inaction,” Kay and Shipman share. “When women hesitate because we aren’t sure, we hold ourselves back. But when we do act, even if it’s because we’re forced to, we perform just as well as men do.”

And this, is what women constantly need to remember – sometimes the reason we’re not winning, is because we haven’t even signed up for the race. Women are biologically geared to make better, wiser decisions than males – no big deal, right? For example, the hedge-funds run by female hedge-fund managers continuously outperform those run by male managers, as women make smarter, more thought out investments.

So what can we do besides just addressing the gap? For starters we can start to call both ourselves and each other out, beginning with some of the tactics below:

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1. Upspeak

Turning thoughts from ideas into questions happens as a response to fear of rejection. Just like in writing, it is important to lose any hint of questioning tone. You would never include in an essay what you “think,” you will simply state what you believe. One question mark makes the world of difference between, “I believe the new option is best!” instead of, “I believe the new option is best?” The better we become at expressing our beliefs, regardless of others’ approval, we will instantly sound more certain and in turn, be more respected.

2. Jump Out Of Your Box

We all know where our comfort zone is – now go get out of it! Women are more likely to stay in careers they are unhappy with longer, in fear of the unknown. Understandable, but helpful? Definitely not. For me, networking events were always a bit scary, and definitely outside of my comfort zone, yet I always force myself to attend. Because the more I go, the more comfortable I feel, not to mention, way more confident than when I first walked in. Confidence is strongly associated from risk taking, as it can be defined as a belief in the ability to succeed, a belief that builds action. If you never leave your box, you will never be forced to utilize your belief that you too can do anything you want, waiting outside of your safety net.

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3. Minimize The Over Thinking

The problem with thinking too much is that it is directly correlated with less confidence, less grit. The more we do it, the more likely we are not taking action, sometimes never making a decision at all. Men, due to testosterone, over think less, making decisions quicker. Although difficult, the faster we address and make decisions, the more assertive and powerful we will feel in our own choices, and furthermore save a lot of mental energy! Sure, I cannot endorse making impulsive, thoughtless decisions, but I can recommend that if you  practice quick decision making, it will be noticeable immediately. Albeit trivial, instead of Yelping on where to go to dinner for 20 minutes, stop thinking so much and just act.

4. Fail More

I’ve let my perfectionism get in the way of accomplishing my work, essentially delaying my dreams. Our perfectionism, a popular trait among women, is a huge killer of confidence.

As Katty Kay and Claire Shipman relent, “We don’t answer questions until we are totally sure of the answer, we don’t submit a report until we’ve edited it nauseam, and we don’t sign up for that triathlon unless we know we are faster and fitter than [what] is required. We watch our male colleagues take risks, while we hold back until we’re sure we are perfectly ready and perfectly qualified.”

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Similarly to a terrible date, once we experience our fears, failures, and rejections – they make us stronger and more willing to take on the new. I, too, used to be fearful of submitting my writing, without having it looked over by multiple people, until I finally took the perfectionism down a notch and believed in my own abilities to successfully edit. Since then, I have only grown more and more confident in my own work, and assurance that not everything has to be perfect.

5. Let It Go

Like the song, letting it go is what women need to do more of. I’m not only talking about letting go of fears, inhibitions, and walls, but also of everything we’re holding onto that’s no longer serving us to grow and evolve. The criticism and care of others we carry is way too much, and not healthy at all. It inhibits, making us feel weighed down and exhausted, juggling the opinions of bosses, bad friends, or unsupportive family members.

It is amazing to see what work and challenges you are capable of handling without a thing holding you back! Truly reflect on what you could accomplish, without fear, doubt, or a single negative voice whispering in your ear.

Nothing in life comes easy, everything takes work, especially ourselves. Building confidence will mean different things for all of us – taking risks, working our ass off, learning to stand up for ourselves, self-reflecting, building our bodies, the list can go on. Yes, confidence may not only be about just feeling good about yourself, but it definitely includes it.

Sure, it will never be overnight, but like any new habits, we can slowly make our brains more confidence-prone. We can slowly teach our female friends, and families, and coworkers, what confidence really means.

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