Saturday, October 18, 2014

The Confidence Gap

Feedback for girls and boys differs: “Boys’ mistakes are attributed to a lack of effort,” while “girls come to see mistakes as a reflection of their deeper qualities.”  
(Carol Dweck, Mindset – quoted in The Atlantic)

Last week when I asked my aunt about mentors in big companies and the difference between men and women’s success (glass ceiling, etc. etc.), she said it had less to do with a lack of opportunities for women and more to do with the “confidence gap.”

This is the confidence gap: people who are confident in themselves get promoted past those who aren’t. They are hired more often, and they usually do better in interviews than people who lack confidence. The confidence gap is usually a gap between women and men: men are more confident in themselves and women are less. A May article in The Atlantic reported than even high-powered women—top CEOs, basketball stars, and famous news correspondents with every right to feel confident—doubt themselves. The “imposter syndrome” strikes women more regularly than men.

My aunt identified one possibility of why this exists. While she was given plenty of opportunities to advance in the companies she’s worked within, she was usually given a trial period to prove herself before she got a promotion. Once she proved herself, she got the job. This wasn’t a hoop her male counterparts were usually forced to jump through. Moreover, she told me,

Men don't really like working with ‘girls.’ The boys club still exists—and since we may not do business the same way (golf course, football games)—they tend to gravitate to where they feel more comfortable.

It irks me that even in my own fields—communication, literature, writing—fields which are dominated by women in many ways continue to be somewhat “ruled” by men. The confidence gap exists in academic writing—a writing instructor reports her female graduate students’ papers speckled with “maybe’s”—and in is probably fed by consistently lower evaluations for female professors. Even the hiring is skewed in men's favor: a resume with a male name on the top (“John”) inspires more confidence than an identical (but for the name “Jennifer”) female resume.

And it’s not just a “confidence” issue. One reason women get hired less (and sometimes almost fired!) are concerns about her baby-making timeline. More on this later, but I’ll end with some advice from my aunt, a successful businesswoman and mother of two:

. . . don't quit to raise your children.  Five years out of the workforce is like re-entering at entry level.  Find a way to get some help.  Your kids will be fine.  They will grow up with a positive view of women as equals.  Nothing wrong with that.

1 comment:

  1. Timely and just to add fuel to the discussion. ;)