Academy of Experience: Why we should all help to overcome the confidence gap between men and women
It’s the 21st century and we’re still living in a world with disconcerting gender gaps. Although we are moving in the right direction, in 2020 the World Economic Forum found that a 31.4% average gender gap remains globally, the largest of which being Political Empowerment and Economic Participation and Opportunity. There is no wonder that people who identify as women can be subject to feelings of inferiority in society and experience subsequent self-esteem issues, defined as a person’s overall sense of personal worth or value (Verywellmind, 2021).
Although these macro environmental factors seem daunting and immovable by your average citizen, what if we could all take more responsibility to support & encourage girls to be confident in their abilities from a young age? Better yet, what if there was irrefutable evidence of the global societal benefits of gender equality, assisted by us all empowering women to flourish throughout their lives?
The self-esteem gap
Between the ages of 8 and 14, a girl’s level of self-esteem plummets by a third, creating a 27% gap between themselves and boys (Ypulse, 2018). Moving into adulthood, less than a third of women in their mid-20s would describe themselves as confident, compared to half of men (Zenger & Folkman, 2019).
Being frank, civilisation has not been set up for women to feel a high sense of personal worth. In the UK, it’s been only 100 years since women were empowered to vote and work in professional sectors, 60 years since it was made illegal to discriminate against them and a mere 7 years ago since they were able to benefit from flexible working laws around childcare (Monster, 2018). Yes, patriarchal structures are slowly subsiding in some countries worldwide, but there is much to be done before it can be said that women are working and living as equals in our society. When we consider minority women in the UK, it’s important to remember that they have not only fought to overcome gender divides but have also faced systemic racial barriers that can, too, prevent growth.
Aside from social structures, women still very much live in a world physically designed for men too, as Criado Perez clearly outlines through her book ‘Invisible Women’ (2019). She exposes numerous shocking examples backed by indisputable data, including everything from the average smartphone being too big for women’s hands and offices being five degrees too cold for women, to heart failure trials designed around male participants that put women’s lives severely at risk.
Women can also be subjected to ongoing waves of hormones, affecting their serotonin levels and often inhibiting feelings of power, purpose and confidence. For those that go on to grow the children of our future world, although magical, this comes with its professional and personal sacrifices that collectively put women behind men once again when the inevitable pressure arrives to decide between fulfilling a stereotypical post-partum role in the shape of the “child-carer” or “career woman”. That being said, identifying as a woman does not necessarily mean you have the capacity to have periods or children, but this certainly does not limit your ability to feel the gravity of the prejudices associated with being a woman and the consequential impact on self-esteem . In fact, identifying as a gender different to that at birth can compound this further, creating an additional layer of prejudice for someone to face through their lifetime.
The leaning-in gap
People who identify as women are as competent as their male peers. Despite the shockingly low numbers of women in leadership positions across the board, women score higher than men in most leadership skills. Zenger & Folkman (2019) found women excelled across 84% of the competencies measured including team working, innovation, resilience and problem-solving. What limits them in reaching their potential, however, is not their ability but engrained negative self-perceptions that prevent them from making the most of opportunities.
A HP report in 2014 found that men only apply for a job or put themselves up for a promotion when they meet 60% of qualifications, but women only do so if they meet 100% of them. As Shipman & Kay (2014) write in their book “The Confidence Code “Underqualified and underprepared men don’t think twice about leaning in. Overqualified and over-prepared, too many women still hold back.”
Imposter syndrome is also an issue that hits women hard, but hits women of colour & those in the LGBTQ+ community harder (BBC, 2020). Norton, a psychotherapist and executive coach, explains “When you experience systemic oppression or are directly or indirectly told your whole life that you are less-than or undeserving of success and you begin to achieve things in a way that goes against a long-standing narrative in the mind, imposter syndrome will occur.”
Not only does imposter syndrome hold many back, but the lack of role models to “signal the possibility of advancement” across many fields & industries does too. Research shows that girls who do not see women who look and act like them working in areas of interest, like STEM and politics, discourages them from pursuing these career paths. By taking a collective responsibility to empower women and minority groups to prosper in society as they deserve to, we can contribute to breaking this cycle, creating more role models for future generations to follow in the footsteps of.
How will overcoming this benefit us all?
A recent study of 2000 public firms across 24 countries found that those with women on their boards performed better, due to less excessive risk-taking and greater efficiency. There is a reason why Norway, Spain, France and Iceland have laws that require that women make up a minimum of 40% of boards at these companies (HBR, 2019)! In addition, companies with above-average levels of diversity on leadership teams gained a higher proportion of revenue from innovation than those with below-average diversity (BCG, 2018).
Furthermore, another 2015 study by McKinsey suggested that by advancing women’s equality with interventions such as ‘shifting deep-rooted attitudes to influence the status of women in work and society’, the global economy could benefit by $12 trillion by 2025 - to put that into perspective, that’s the size of the Chinese & US economies combined!
How do we get there?
The benefits of encouraging women to be confident in their own abilities is evident, not least for women at an individual level but also for our communities, workplaces and society.
It’s fantastic to see global initiatives like the UN’s #HeForShe which has encouraged 2.2m to commit to the solidarity movement for the advancement of gender equality, and many companies taking responsibility to empower women in the workplace and beyond, like Google’s #IAmRemarkable workshops which have been attended by 180,000 globally. Having everyone take personal responsibility to stand in unity and support other women is extremely powerful.
However, it’s a lot harder to break ingrained self-esteem issues in later life! Girls approaching adolescence often shy away from risk-taking due to fear of failure, so it can be extremely beneficial for them to participate in more non-traditional educational experiences which encourage experimentation without limitations.
That’s why at Kidovation we are passionate about inspiring creativity, critical thinking and curiosity in kids from a young age - through igniting imaginations to innovate with no constraints, we strive to promote and grow confidence that knows no bounds (or gender!) from a young age. By bridging the digital skills gap, we aim to make traditionally male-dominated industries more approachable for these female inventors of the future.
And with our new brand Academy of Experience, we are committed to inspiring, motivating and empowering 14-25 year olds from NEET (not in education, employment or training) & disadvantaged backgrounds, so that regardless of their circumstances, they can become equipped with the tools to thrive when they seek opportunities that will help them succeed in the big world of digital, creative & technology professions.
The next generation are the future. Imagine if all of them - regardless of gender, class, race, disability, sexual orientation - were able to seize opportunities and show the world what they are capable of, paving the way for generations to come, as we move towards equality together?
- Abbie Brett - Academy of Experience