We recently blogged about the confidence gap in politics (its impact aptly displayed in the infographic above), but we’d like to explore the issue further, as it affects women in politics and in other fields. The confidence gap in politics, in short: women are not running for office at nearly the rate men are. And it no longer appears that overt sexism is responsible (or at least, completely so.) New polling suggests 90% of swing-state voters would consider voting for a female candidate for president, and women are actually coveted candidates because they are perceived by voters as more hardworking and less corruptible than men.
Why then (despite more women attending college and earning advanced degrees than men) is there such a dearth of female leadership at the top of government (and business, and science, and in Hollywood and…)?
As this NY Magazine article summarizes, “Due to negative perceptions of “bossy” women, an expectation that they’ll still have to do most of the housekeeping and child-rearing, and the persistent glass ceiling, women set their sights lower than men when they envision their professional future. Applied to politics, the ambition gap makes for a compelling reason why even politically involved women don’t see themselves as future candidates — let alone future presidents.”
Add to this a recent finding by the American Association of University Women (reported by Rachel Simmons) that “women in their first year out of college are paid 82 cents for every dollar paid to their male peers—creating a heavier college debt burden and lifelong wage gap at a time when women are increasingly the primary breadwinners of their households.” This, too, is partially attributable to the fact that young women suffer from a “psychological glass ceiling”: worried about being perceived as pushy, they fail to ask for the kinds of salaries and raises their male peers do.
Even when women do ask for raises, studies have shown other people’s gender expectations can be harmful as well. According to Rachel Simmons, “In a study by Linda Babcock of Carnegie Mellon, men and women asked for a raise using identical scripts. It was the women who were branded aggressive—unless they smiled while they asked, and appeared warm and concerned for others above themselves.”
How do we encourage girls and women to stop self-sabotaging, and to fight back against a culture that tells them every day they shouldn’t be too pushy, too demanding, too masculine in seeking leadership positions? Teaching women and girls to stand up and advocate for themselves is one solution that’s proven helpful. Empowering activities, whether sports, or music, or an after-school club like clubGEN, help girls learn to be confident, assertive leaders before the confidence gap takes too strong a hold. And seeing women in positions of authority helps other girls and women believe in themselves as well- so be a model in your community. Volunteer for clubGEN’s Career Week. Run for office. Play a leading role in whatever it is you care about. Speak up. Stand up. We need to show each other, and the girls and women that come after us, that there is nothing wrong with asking (without a smile, even!) for the recognition and compensation and authority we deserve.
It is a well known, (if often unacknowledged) fact that in our society there still exists a significant gap in the number of women compared to men in the fields of science and math, and that women still lag in leadership positions, holding only 5% of top corporate positions and a minority of positions in elected legislatures (just 16% in the USA).
What is to account for this difference? Not ability. A recent study that analyzed math scores from more than half a million fourth- and eighth-graders from 86 countries found essentially no gender differences between girls and boys in math performance, and that that the more equal the societies were regarding gender, the better everyone did in math. And a new study in the journal Science concluded, “Gender differences in choosing to enter competitions are one source of unequal labor market outcomes concerning wages and promotions.” Other studies have supported this conclusion, finding that when women and men see a job posting where they do not have every qualification, women are much less likely to apply for those positions than men are. And in the field of politics, studies have shown that women are more likely than men to perceive the electoral environment as highly competitive and women are much less likely than men to think they are qualified to run for office.
The researchers of the Science study conducted an experiment which involved three methods that provided an initial advantage to women in a math competition. The study that was conducted indicated that if a system of gender-based affirmative action was put into place initially, women felt more confident about their abilities and were not only more likely to enter the contest, but more likely to succeed as well.
So what is happening here, and what do we do about it? According to Anita Gurian, a clinical assistant professor of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at the NYU School of Medicine, for girls, “Starting in the pre-teen years, there is a shift in focus; the body becomes an all consuming passion and barometer of worth.” Girls get the message that being smart is unattractive, and they start to hide their accomplishments & their ideas. Girls are also exposed early on to the message that certain fields are difficult for them, and these expectations of failure eventually become a self-fulfilling prophecy.
This “confidence gap” doesn’t just impact girls in their careers. It has an impact on every aspect of their lives. A study by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention of teens who had unintended pregnancies found that 25% did not use contraception because their partners did not want them to. It is for this reason that it is so important girls learn early on to be assertive, to stand up for themselves, and to feel comfortable saying “no.”
In order to succeed in fields where women are traditionally underrepresented, encouraging STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) and participation in entrepreneurship & civic engagement is incredibly important. But on a more basic level, it is clear we need to encourage girls to be confident, assertive, and proactive in all aspects of their lives. That is why GENaustin, through our array of programming, seeks to empower all girls to recognize and celebrate their abilities, and to never feel intimidated to pursue their goals. Ultimately it is today’s empowered girls that will become the first women to jump the gender gap.
How are girls developing emotionally in middle school and why is it so important to build their self-esteem and leadership skills at a young age?
It’s really important. Strong self-esteem impacts a girl throughout her life. Academic achievement, school success, social skills, and healthy body image all come easier when a girl has strong self-esteem. When a girl has strong self-esteem she can combat the negative influences that might otherwise derail her.
What do you think are the largest negative influences on young girls, and how can parents and educators help them avoid those pitfalls?
The transition to teen and adolescent years is very difficult. Their bodies are changing, they’re moving to middle and high school, and the impact of peers can’t be overstated. There are strong peer influences, and they’re trying to navigate that new independence. Parents are key and immediate role models. Parents need to watch what messages the media they consume is sending to their daughters. It’s also important to notice what they are saying in front of and to their daughters. Parents should talk to girls about different qualities that come from the inside. When girls are constantly communicated about how important beauty is, certainly that can cause diminished self-esteemed. It’s frequently better to compliment, for instance, a girls talent, her skills, her willingness to try out new things, as opposed to “how beautiful she looks”. Don’t focus solely on physical attractiveness. Real beauty comes from skills and confidence. Instead, try saying things like, “I like how you tackled that activity”, “I’m really proud of how you handled that situation”, etc.
What does it mean for a girl to be a leader in her own life?
To be a leader in her own life means maintaining and knowing her own values, seeking challenges, taking age appropriate risks… these things are a huge confidence boost. It means being the kind of girl that stands up to a bully or gets help.
How does an all-girl environment help girls’ be self-confident and empowered members of
When boys are in the room girls don’t feel as comfortable expressing themselves. All girl environments give girls a comfortable space to practice new skills and new roles that then easily transition to larger communities.
Where can we go for more information?
Go to www.girlscouts.org, to find out how to become a member or adult volunteer.read more