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The Confidence Gap: It's Time For Women To Step Up & Be 'Ball-Busters'

Apr 15, 2014 at 7:03 PM Chime in now

The Confidence Gap: It's Time For Women To Step Up & Be 'Ball-Busters'


As much as men’s rights activists would love to have us believe, we know women are not quite equal yet. That damned wage gap is still going strong -- “According to Statistics Canada, women continue to earn 70 per cent of what men earn on average annually in this country.”

And then there's a recent article in The Atlantic that points toward another trend making headlines: the Confidence Gap.

According to the article, “Success, it turns out, correlates just as closely with confidence as it does with competence.” This is a problem. If women are naturally unconfident, then it stands to reason we will see less women dominating in the workforce. This means less role models, less attention on issues like affordable childcare and on and on.

If you’ve ever met a woman -- you have, right? -- you might attest to the fact that we are less bold, less brash, less full-tilt competitive and confident. Many argue that it’s just the way we’re built -- nature, not nurture.

But according to Uri Gneezy, a behavioral economist at the Rady School of Management at U.C. San Diego, nurture plays a much bigger role than most people think. In an episode of the Freakonomics podcast called “Women Are Not Men” (which everyone should listen to, it’s awesome) Gneezy tells the tale of a field study he completed to test “if men are more competitively inclined” using both the patriarchal Masai tribe in Tanzania and the matrilineal Khasi in Northeast India.

The study employed a ball-throwing game that involved higher reward for higher risk. While they were studying competitiveness, confidence played a huge role in the decision to take the risk. What they found was very telling of how much of a role society plays in shaping women’s confidence levels.

“What we showed is that it's not the only factor that goes in, which again is not a big surprise, but the other factor, the culture is so big, can be so big that it can just overturn the results. So if you grow up in a matrilineal society, women are actually more competitive than men. So it can completely override any evolutionary explanation, any nature kind of reason. Nurture could be that big. And I think that’s the main result of this study is that in the right environment, women are going to be just as competitive as men.”

This one study may not prove a universal truth, but it sure supports the kind of stuff I see every day. Once when I was considering asking for a raise at work, several female friends urged me not to. They thought that staying under the radar improved my chances of keeping my job long-term -- that the risk of asking was too high. But I did ask. And guess what? I got a raise.

I don’t blame my friends for suggesting I hold back -- most women wring their hands over negotiating. But what does this teach us? That we have been living, and continue to live, in a society that does not encourage women to be confident, and that we’re still dealing with the effects of the kind of sexism that has been ostensibly “dealt with,” like the right to vote. Sure, I can go drop a ballot in a box if that’s what I choose to do, but I also have to see and hear things like this. How’s that supposed to make women feel?

According to the website Informed Opinions (tagline: “amplifying women’s voices” -- awesome), “Women's voices make up 24 per cent of commentators featured on influential Canadian TV and radio broadcasts.” Only 24 per cent! And that’s not because there aren’t women experts out there.

In their “Why it’s important” section, Informed Opinions states:

“Despite the fact that women constitute 61 per cent of university graduates and are successful in many previously male-dominated fields, their voices in opinion media remain outnumbered by a factor of four to one (see recent research). And because they remain under-represented politically, their perspectives and priorities are already less likely to be reflected in government decisions at all levels. This absence undermines democracy and denies Canada access to the analysis and ideas of many of its best and brightest.”

If that doesn’t drive home the high-stakesness of a woman’s confidence, I don’t know what will. We are literally being scared and shamed out of prioritizing ourselves.

The blog Academic Men Explain Things To Me is both hilarious and sad. It’s PhD-level mansplaining (literally) and it’s a perfect example of why women today might feel like they need to stare in the mirror and psych themselves up before going to work.

“You are smart. You are competent. You can do this.”

And, duh, you can. You shouldn’t have to Rocky yourself up the steps of your office every morning. But dealing with this problem will take one part shutting down the haters and mansplainers, and one part women tackling imposter syndrome to the ground and making it stay there.

Confident women will always be called ball-busters so long as there are only a few stand-outs to pick on -- the Marissa Mayers, the Hillary Clintons, the Sheryl Sandbergs. Add yourself to that list by not shying away when the opportunity arises to assert yourself. Close that confidence gap, girl.

You can do it.

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