Why self confidence is an issue for women

A report from the UK’s Institute of Leadership and Management claims that women have lower career confidence than men and more self doubts, and women with self doubts have lower expectations. In her book, “Lean In,” Sheryl Sandberg wrote about seeing plenty of women with self confidence issues, stating that whilst men ask for what they want and believe they deserve it, women on the whole do not.

In my recent blog on women on boards I quoted an EU report that claimed that 60% of university undergraduates are women, but significantly fewer go on to leadership positions.

After reading this study, I started to reflect on the roots of the problem. I was shocked recently to read that in the UK in the sixties, exam results were initially rigged to allow more boys to pass the 11+ (this was an exam which purported to select the brightest in order for them to go to Grammar school). Educational research also suggests that boys receive more attention in primary classrooms. Common myths around subject matter have also been prevalent for a long time – girls are ‘not as good as boys at Maths’ is one that easily comes to mind.

The movement to encourage girls and boys to equally study Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths is a strong one and there is some evidence to suggest it is seeing some success. In a much reported move, the technology industry is proactively helping to address these issues. Moreover, we are now seeing examples of the tech industry addressing issues of gender stereotyping in grown women as well: this video with Megan Smith, VP of Google, explains why Google is addressing unconscious biases which stereotype women.

So where does the issue start? Does it go further back to the way we raise our daughters? Girls are often brought up with the expectation that they should please and encouraged to be ‘social’ beings. Boys often have an expectation that they will be boisterous and competitive. This social conditioning results in women growing up wanting to please and not wanting to rock the boat whilst men grow up being more assertive and standing up for themselves.

We really must address these issues in how we set expectations for our children and enable women to be able to fully express themselves, be assertive and develop their confidence, as well as enabling them, at the higher end of organisations, to get onto boards.

Barbara is an executive coach, change and creativity facilitator and is launching RenewYou Personal Development workshops for women in France. These programmes are enabling and confidence boosting. The first one will be held on 29 May in Paris.

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