The confidence gap: Men vs Women

  • 30 JUNE 2022
  • 5 min read

How familiar are the following statements?

1. Just be confident.
2. Believe in yourself.
3. If you are confident, you will succeed.
4. The most beautiful thing you can wear is your confidence.

We all have heard or said this or something similar at some point. It is good and sound advice. However, confidence or the lack of it is much more complex than we acknowledge.

Our inability to acknowledge this complexity often leads us to hold beliefs such as “either an individual is confident or is not” and that “lack of confidence stems from the lack of skills or abilities.” Therefore, we often let people know they should be more confident without actually providing them enough information about how to get there.

Over the years, women have broken barriers through their hard work and talent and they have made undeniable progress. Still, career progression for women is way slower compared to men. And of course many systemic factors and flaws contribute to this gap.

But, one major reason that comes up is the acute lack of confidence embedded deep in the female psyche.

For each individual, the causes of low self-confidence combine and interact in unique ways. Your genetic makeup, cultural upbringing, early life experiences, and other circumstances all come into play. These factors obviously hold true for men too. So, why are we observing this gap in confidence between men and women?

Gender roles may be one reason for this discrepancy. Self confidence is linked with many traits related to the “male role” that boys are expected to develop and have enough role models to learn from. Confidence is a stereotypically male quality. While girls displaying self- confidence is viewed as a violation of established gender roles, boys are supposed to achieve it.

There is enough data out there that suggests that men tend to overestimate their abilities while women are inclined towards underestimating and doubting their abilities. This tendency may stem from the fact that in many cultures boys are celebrated and applauded for their achievements and actions, while women are criticised and expected to be immensely careful with whatever they want to do.

Boys are taught to explore, fall down and get back up, pick fights and take risks. While girls are asked to be careful because systemic factors make them more prone to be in harm’s way. As a result, women develop a long standing fear of taking risks and failing.

As women are not used to being celebrated, they are more likely to develop the infamous - imposter syndrome. Women frequently feel like "imposters" who may be exposed at any time and don't deserve their positions, promotions, or awards. They quickly give credit to others or to their luck for their achievements and shrug off praise at the speed of lightning.

There is also a cultural tendency to blame women for mishappenings that are caused by external factors that are entirely out of their control. It is no surprise that women develop a penchant to assume blame when things go wrong, while they never fail to give credit to others for their success.

Another interesting battle erupts between women and self confidence as they tend to be perfectionists. Women are expected to be perfect. Expected to be multi-talented, multi- tasking goddesses meant to be revered. And the moment they slip up, fingers are pointed and they are called out for it.

The development of confidence depends highly on the space given to an individual to explore, fail, move on from mistakes and learn to value themselves for who they are and not for what others expect of them.

So while we create programs and interventions for women to bridge the gap caused by inequality, especially in fields long dominated by men, are we ensuring that they have enough space to develop the confidence they need to cross the bridge?

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