Women are typically less confident than men according to an article published in The Atlantic “The Confidence Gap.” Apparently higher education is not enough to narrow the gap, even though more working women than men have college degrees according to the US Census Bureau. I recommend this article.
It was also no shock to learn that confidence is not necessarily related to competence. I observed this first hand during 40 years in the business world.
Two psychologists, David Dunning and Joyce Ehrlinger, published a study in 2003 “Why the Unskilled Are Unaware: Further Explorations of (Absent) Self-Insight Among the Incompetent.” It isn’t because incompetents lie, but rather that they can’t recognize their deficiencies. Unfortunately, confidence is sometimes confused with talent despite all evidence.
Men are more confident than women
Hewlett Packard wanted to encourage more women to apply for promotions. After studying personnel records, they found that men applied for jobs even when they only met 60% of the requirements. Women thought they had to meet 100% before they would apply.
Cameron Anderson, a UC Berkeley psychologist, studies overconfidence. Overly confident, yet incompetent, people believe they are good at whatever they do. Therefore, people believe in them. Per Anderson, “The most confident people were considered the most beloved in the group.”
It also appears that interactions between men as they grow up — particularly via sports — helped their future selves. They learned to let insults slide off and that it’s best to shrug off failure. Then on to the next challenge.
What’s holding women back?
Perfectionism stymies progress. This is a mostly female issue as confirmed by studies throughout the years. Striving for perfection leads to paralysis — lack of action. “Women feel confident only when they are perfect. Or practically perfect,” say Katty Kay and Claire Shipman in The Atlantic article.
Being unwilling to take risks or make mistakes creates obstacles for women. Per Carol Dwek, a Stanford psychology professor, “Boys’ mistakes are attributed to a lack of effort, while girls come to see mistakes as a reflection of their deeper qualities.” In other words, it’s personal for women.
Women don’t seek credit for their successes. They want to acknowledge co-workers, luck, or the universe for playing a part. It’s considered unbecoming to say, “thanks, I worked my derriere off, I appreciate the recognition.” If women don’t believe in their own value, who will?
Why is lack of confidence a problem for women?
A psychology professor at Ohio State, Richard Petty, believes “Confidence is the stuff that turns thoughts into action.” This is simplistic, but it is the beginning step. Action leads to more confidence whether or not it is successful.
Zachary Estes found that women, if left to their own devices, answered test questions when they were sure of the answers, leaving the rest blank. That led to lower scores then men taking the same test. Men answered the questions whether or not they knew the answer.
If women display too much confidence, aren’t sweet and nice all the time, and are aggressive about what they want, then some people don’t like them. Women want to be liked. You only have to think of Hillary Clinton to understand many people’s adverse reaction to her being a strong, confident woman. The word aggressive is defined differently for men and women. Good for men, bad for women.
Can women learn confidence?
It seems a copout to blame hormones for this particular difference between men and women. Estrogen does one thing, testosterone another. All that is true, but we are more than our hormones.
Can we change who we think we are at our essential being? We are seeing more studies proving that the brain is more plastic than scientists used to believe and it really can change, even late in life. Let’s click our heels together three times and say, “I will be more confident.” Seems as good a place as any to start.