6 Ways You Can Help Close the Confidence Gap

A copy of the book "The Confidence Code" lying in the sand.
May 19, 2014

Through little fault of their own, women have a tenuous relationship with confidence. Just ask Jill Abramson, the first female executive editor of the New York Times, whose firing has inspired a firestorm of speculation that she may have been replaced, in part, for being “pushy.” Or talk to our Elect Her–Campus Women Win alumnae. Repeatedly, we hear from these women that they would feel ready to run for political office, if only they had confidence.

That lack of confidence (and the Elect Her program itself) was highlighted in The Confidence Code, a book written by Katty Kay and Claire Shipman that reports that many of the brightest and most competent women say they lack the confidence to aim high or take risks in their work.

Much of the ensuing discussion over The Confidence Code has insisted that we can’t ask women to have more confidence without addressing cultural and institutional barriers that fuel women’s doubts or punish women who do express confidence.

As it turns out, both the book’s authors and their critics are right. An issue as broad and complex as women’s leadership can’t be tackled from one angle. We need to fight the cultural barriers women face while also offering opportunities to build confidence right away, today.

Here are six things we can all do right now:

1. Discourage your own and others’ perfectionism.

Women are 25 percent more likely to be perfectionists than men are. That tendency to be hard on ourselves can bubble up into judgment of others who don’t seem to meet our ideal. With the need to be “perfect,” we can decline to take opportunities — like pursuing an unfamiliar major or running to be board president — because we fear failure.

2. Ask women to take that next risk.

Taking the leap to ask for a promotion, speak up in the next team meeting, or even run for elected office is difficult. Women often need to be asked multiple times to step up.

3. Advocate for fair pay.

Why should women feel confident in their abilities when the gender wage gap tells us we’re worth less? You can help women fight for fair pay by telling Congress to pass needed legislation or educating yourself on how the pay gap hurts women and families.

4. Provide feedback and step in when you see women underestimating themselves and their accomplishments.

If you are a supervisor or hiring manager, do you see women underestimating themselves in interviews or on the job when describing their strengths? Take a moment to provide feedback to that person to identify how she might be holding herself back.

5. Teach yourself and other women to negotiate.

Women are less likely to negotiate their salaries, and when they do, they risk facing repercussions of appearing pushy. While we wait for employers and Congress to catch on to the need for fair pay, you can help teach college women to effectively negotiate their salaries and benefits. (And check out our research to see how recent graduates are affected by the pay gap.)

6. Help women find their voices.

There are many opportunities for women to build their leadership skills and gain confidence. College is an especially important time for women to find their voices and learn to take risks. Encourage the college women in your life to seek out opportunities to practice their leadership skills and take action on issues they care about.

This post was co-written by AAUW Vice President of Leadership Programs Kate Farrar and AAUW Elect Her Program Manager Jess Kelly.

By:   |   May 19, 2014


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