Gender stereotypes can kill a woman’s self-confidence, new research by Harvard Business School Assistant Professor Katherine Coffman shows. Oh no! Yet another reason why we can’t make it?!
[Women] lack confidence in their ability to compete in fields that men are stereotypically believed to perform more strongly in, such as science, math, and technology. Women are also more reluctant to share their ideas in group discussions on these subjects. And even when they have talent—and are actually told they are high-achievers in these subjects—women are more likely than men to shrug off the praise and lowball their own abilities. […] Gender stereotypes distort our views of both ourselves and others—and that may be especially troubling for women, since buying into those stereotypes could be creating a bleak self-image that is setting them back professionally.
All this is true, of course. There are lots and lots of articles like this latest one, all confirming that, for a kaleidoscope of reasons, women are held back. But while it’s great to have all this research that maps out the territory women are competing in, increasingly I have a problem with this approach.
Finding so many reasons why women are set back, in a way perpetuates the issue, for two reasons: the problem always is externalised, and it grows bigger and bigger. Women, it seems, are victims of a great conspiracy, so great that you can’t really do anything about it.
I don’t deny that there are externally imposed limitations, and lots of them indeed, but the common thread of all these findings is that women tend to have lower self-esteem or inner confidence than men. The way I see it, is that on top of all the obstacles on the road, women hold themselves back. That’s the elephant in the room.
In order to change the parameters that work against us, we, women need to take charge of that. We can’t sit around helplessly until someone changes the gender stereotypes, pay gap or confidence gap for us. We need to focus on feeling better about ourselves so we have the inner confidence to stand up for ourselves. That is when we will be heard and acknowledged, seen and valued for who we are, instead of what we’re supposed to be in this lop-sided world. That is what will set true change in motion.