For the past few years the topic of women’s underrepresentation in the workplace has been a hot topic, researched by scholars and popularized by TED talkers such as Anne-Marie Slaughter, Cheryl Sandberg and Amy Cuddy. Its causes and solutions are very present in my mind as I navigate the post-university career world.
In the last century the number of women in school and at the workplace has skyrocketed. Women are now well-represented in middle management and are becoming entrepreneurs at a dizzying rate. But what about the C-Suite? Women are chronically underrepresented in upper management and executive roles. People in the know have different theories about this- some say it is due to workplace structure (too little flexibility, no room for other stuff like raising kids) or culture (the old boys club). Some point the magnifying glass at women’s own actions- women choose not to “sit at the table” as Cheryl Sandberg dubs it.
Two of my fellow XX have recently published a book called the Confidence Code where they hone in on one reason for this underrepresentation, namely confidence. BBC World News America anchor Katty Kay and ABC News senior correspondent Claire Shipman write that confidence, or the lack of it in women, is a key factor in the lack of women in the top spots.
Katty and Claire go all the way back to grade school, when girls are conditioned and rewarded for being quiet, hard working and submissive. Boys on the other hand roughhouse and taunt each other and are often scolded by teachers, inadvertently teaching them to take risks, accept failure and try again.
From the monkey bars to the corporate jungle, women carry with them lower confidence which manifests itself many different ways. For example, women tend to apply for a promotion only when they meet 100 percent of the qualifications. Men on the other hand only need 50 percent to take the leap.
Although some may accuse Kay and Shipman of verging on popular psychology and presenting a one-sided view of a complex problem, I identify very strongly with this reality. In my own life a lack of confidence has stayed with me from grade school, through university to the career world. It is a crutch, constantly providing a reason to avoid new endeavours and pursuits. It is disempowering and when not dealt with it leads to depression.
Of course not all women suffer from low confidence. For those of us who do, it is imperative that we analyze and begin to change these self-defeating thoughts and behaviours. As Ford said, “Whether you think you can or you think you can’t, you’re right.”