Stop Telling Women to Be More Confident

December 8, 2014A lot of people are uncomfortable with confident women—which might explain why so many women appear to lack confidence.

I am sick of all the articles focusing on women’s supposed lack of confidence, reinforcing that tired old habit of blaming the women and insisting women are the ones who must adapt when entering the “man’s world” of work, instead of focusing on how we can all strive to create more inclusive workplaces.

Women are constantly being offered tips on how to close the self-confidence gap. We’re told that leaving an impression of competence matters just as much as confidence—so it’s not even what we know, but how well we show what we know (or fake it). Then we’re told not to be strong because, as fashion designer Stella McCartney recently put it, strong women aren’t “terribly attractive all the time.”

I’ve been an athlete my whole life. My coaches taught me that my mind has more power to propel me forward than my legs. Before placing fifth in the recent 24-hour USATF National Championships, I spent a lot of time visualizing the race: I was winning, I was feeling strong, I was passing people, I was pushing past the pain, I was running farther than I’d ever run before.

It didn’t turn out exactly like that. The day of, I faced blisters and miserable weather. But it wouldn’t have helped to sit around imagining potential negative outcomes. What I needed to keep me going was my inner confidence.

Women are often criticized for not applying for jobs they aren’t qualified for, unlike men. But why would they?

I don’t think this is a sign that women are less confident about their ability to do the job. It’s merely a sign that they take the word “requirements” seriously and aren’t interested in wasting their own time or yours.

Instead of treating women like they’re in need of Confidence 101, maybe we should be wondering why women are consistently held to higher standards than men.

We know women are hired for experience, while men are tapped for their potential. (Sigh.) We also know that men tend to overestimate their abilities, while women do not—even when their respective job performances don’t differ. In other words, delusional overconfidence pays off.

What’s up with that? Maybe it’s not healthy self-confidence most women lack, but overgrown egos.  

We also know that women becoming more confident won’t cure workplace bias and discrimination. An office manager friend of mine was told by a recruiter that the firm she interviewed with turned her down because she appeared “too aggressive.” A woman scientist I know was told to “tone down” her assertiveness, and a female researcher was given feedback on her performance review that she needed to be more nurturing. (Seriously.) The truth is women are damned if we do and doomed if we don’t.

It makes sense to feel less than confident when you know you’re not getting the same pay or opportunities as your male colleagues.

As the writer Jessica Valenti put it, “Women's lack of confidence could actually just be a keen understanding of just how little American society values them.”

The key to changing things for women is to look at the entire system—and focus on changing that.




The views expressed herein are solely those of the guest blogger and do not necessarily reflect those of Catalyst. Catalyst does not endorse any political candidates. The post and the comments are presented only for the purpose of informing the public.