In my profession as a coach, mentor and facilitator, I work very closely with young girls and women seeking clarity on how to navigate through challenges they face personally and professionally. Over the course of my interactions with them, I have come to realize that most of these women are highly aspirational and capable, yet they find it difficult to be assertive and to make their voices heard. They are plagued by self-doubt, low self-confidence and feelings of inadequacy—that they are just not good enough.
I have often wondered whether this is somehow related to gender differences—are women naturally programmed to be less confident or do the prevalent gender stereotypes and social norms play a greater role in making women feel under-deserving?
Existing research, studies and articles published about this topic helped me develop a better and deeper understanding of the issue, the factors that contribute to the confidence gap and how it can be bridged. However, how deeply it impacts the lives of women all over the world and across socio-economic sections is something I learned only through my conversations with these women.
In this article, I attempt to establish that a gap does exist in the confidence levels of men and women, the reasons why this gap exists, how it impacts women in their personal and professional lives and what can be done to reduce this gap
-Jaspriya Gandhok, Tedx Speaker
Gender & Confidence
No one can doubt the existence of the gender gap—the difference in attitudes and expectations with regard to the gender of a person. The stereotypes of gender-specific acceptable and unacceptable behaviours, roles, responsibilities and capabilities are so deeply rooted in our psyche that any deviation from the established standards is treated as an aberration that needs to be set right.
When men and women grow up with different standards to adhere to and different expectations to meet, it is only natural that they will have a marked difference in their view of themselves and the world around them. Where men are encouraged to be disrupters, women are expected to avoid ruffling feathers. Something as basic as stepping out of the house to carry out errands presents distinct challenges for women, both inside the house and out on the streets. Then, is it surprising that men tend to be more confident than women? I think not.
But is this conclusion a mere myth, or does it have any basis in reality? Research done by Zenger Folkman showed that women’s confidence grows with experience over the years, but the gap that exists during the early years results in missed opportunities and compromises.
Source: The Confidence Gap in Men and Women, Zenger Folkman , The Imposter Syndrome
Imposter syndrome is when a person experiences unfounded feelings of self-doubt and incompetence. Though it is not gender-specific, early research on this phenomenon focused mainly on successful professional women and more recent studies show that women are more susceptible to experiencing Imposter Syndrome.
In a study done by KPMG, it was found that 75% of women executives across industries experienced imposter syndrome at some point in their career. In the same study, 56% of women felt that they would not live up to expectations or that people would doubt their capabilities.
Independent research conducted by LinkedIn on job search behaviour showed that women tend to be less likely to apply for senior positions than their current position. It is also often said, though unverified, that men apply for jobs even if they meet 60% of the requirements, while on the other hand, women apply only when they meet 100%.
Whether it is self-promotion, risk-taking or decision-making, women tend to second-guess themselves or feel that they don’t deserve it. It gets more pronounced in places and situations where gender stereotypes and gender-based discrimination are more prevalent. Is it surprising then that women do not take the lead or seize opportunities that come their way when everyone expects them to fall short of expectations? Not really. This leads to women playing it safe and staying under the radar, missing the chance to fulfil their true potential.
Spill Over to personal space
While most of the studies and data cited here deal with the professional lives of women, the confidence gap and its subsequent consequences spill over into their personal lives as well. The stereotypes of traditional gender roles expect greater compromises from women, especially married women.
In the case of unmarried women, right from the time they reach "marriageable age", the stress to conform to societal standards leads to them settling for less than what they want, what they expect. For example, people ask the girl how she will manage work and home after marriage. It implies that a woman’s first duty is to take care of her family, home and other social obligations. It is assumed and expected that the woman will adjust to her new role.
In my professional experience, I have interacted with many accomplished women who feel let down by their families, especially their spouses. They say that there is no acknowledgement or appreciation of their professional achievements. In fact, what they are unable to do to fulfill their traditional role becomes a source of conflict. In extreme scenarios, some women are forced to quit working.
We would think that good education and financial independence would give women equal independence in decision-making as well, but this is far from the reality. Even today, most critical decisions in a woman’s life—education, matrimony, motherhood, finances and profession—are taken by her family, specifically, male members of her family.
Present and Future :
It is no wonder then that we, as a nation, are lagging far behind the rest of the world on the Gender Gap Index. In the recently published Global Gender Gap Report by the World Economic Forum, India ranks
Source: Global Gender Gap Report
While the current picture may seem dismal, there is a positive takeaway from these statistics. When compared to 2021, except for Political Empowerment, we have shown improvement on all other parameters. What we need now is to find ways to fast-track this improvement and bridge the gap sooner rather than later. This is not just women’s battle; it is the responsibility of the entire society to treat half of its population as an equal, provide them with the opportunities to flourish and give them their due.
On a final note, I urge the women to take the reins of their lives in their own hands: make yourself seen and heard, claim your place and ask for what you deserve. Never settle for less!