Why Am I Deciding to Thrive and Lean In? Because Confidence Matters
Here’s the truth: women need to help other women and in order to do that confidence is a factor we need to focus on. The lack of confidence that women have in their abilities is by no means the entire reason for gender inequality, but it is certainly a factor in the equation.I am sure by now most of you have heard of “The Confidence Gap” piece that showed up in The Atlantic on April 14th and then subsequently all of the backlash from that article.‘The Confidence Gap’ covered evidence showing “that women are less self-assured than men—and that to succeed, confidence matters as much as competence.”In a response to this article, Elizabeth Plank of Policy Mic said she sees the article as encouraging women to be more like men and that women are being told to adopt male qualities in order to succeed. Plank asks, “Why is being overconfident the goal here? Do we want a world full of people who over-value their skills and accomplishments? Or one where people are honest about the outcomes they can deliver?”I do not see overconfidence as a male quality. Nor do I see overconfidence as a negative quality. I think we should be rewarding women who have high levels of confidence and can continue to be the trailblazers, advancing women across all sectors of work and life. Why shouldn’t women be overconfident? Women are amazing.Now, I want to be clear. I am not saying that women or men should be cocky, egotistical, and domineering. As President and Co-Founder of Take The Lead, Gloria Feldt, teaches in 9 Practical Leadership Power Tools to Advance Your Career, that sort of attitude is described as having “Power OVER”. “Power-over makes people feel powerless...But once we define power as the power to accomplish something for others, or for the good of us all, women become much more willing to embrace their power. The use of power is legitimated, taken out of the realm of the power-over…Power-to makes one powerfull.”It’s women such as Claire Shipman and Katty Kay who wrote ‘The Confidence Gap’ who are using their power in a constructive way to help close the inequality gap. I’m not saying we should all agree on everything that they say in ‘The Confidence Gap’ (or that we should ever read anything without our critical analysis lens), but we can recognize what Shipman and Kay are trying to do: close the gap. Let us add our efforts and approaches, not criticize someone else’s approach.It seems like when women are recognized for an accomplishment, such as publishing a successful article or study, there is another woman writer, blogger, social media guru right there to tear her down, and question her motives, research, and approach, scrutinizing every detail.I have a BA in Peace Studies and an MA in International Peace and Conflict Resolution, trust me, I understand wanting to challenge the entire system, and alter the deep-rooted systemic problems with society that are causing the inequality gap.I am not a supporter of just blindly celebrating women for the sake that they’re women. But I do support women who are using their influence and platforms to inspire and build up other women.And so, I have a message for some of the female bloggers out there: The question we should be asking ourselves is how can we change the system and make it more equal? You’re not going to do that by putting down Sheryl Sandberg, Katty Kay, Arianna Huffington, and Claire Shipman. It’s OK that we don’t all want the same thing. It’s OK that not all women want to lean in. And it’s OK if we do not all want to be women executives.It’s about choice and having the freedom to choose your path.All of this bashing of high-powered women is distracting us from the real issue: there is a massive inequality gap and we ALL need to ban together to close it; women financial bankers and women cashiers at McDonalds need to hold hands in solidarity. It needs to be both a top down and bottom up approach.And so, how do we close the gap? Well, it does have to do with confidence. If women and girls were socialized to believe that they are worth just as much as a man or a boy we wouldn’t be 2 out of 3 primary minimum-wage workers, there would be instituted paid maternity leave, and we would be impacting and changing our culture. If all women truly had more confidence and knew that as humans they have the inherent power to demand their needs and wants, then these other things fall into place. If women and girls had more confidence, we would not tolerate being treated like second-class citizens and maybe inequalities like the gender wage gap would not exist, because women would have never stood for that sort of BS.Confidence is a means to an end, not an end in itself. I absolutely agree with Elizabeth Plank and Zerlina Maxwell that we need cultural and institutional change on a society level to gain equality. But I also think that those changes will come more quickly if we increase the amount of confident women out there. Without confidence, how can we challenge the system?Ultimately, I’m just glad that these gender inequality conversations have become so mainstreamed. While it is clear that we do not all agree on the approach and the best way to close the gap, the important thing is we have are having these discussions on a very wide and public scale.