The latest theory developed to explain women’s lack of equality in the workplace is the “confidence gap.” In their book The Confidence Code, journalists Katty Kay and Claire Shipman argue women’s lack of confidence and belief in themselves is what is really holding us back from positions of power. Quite frankly, Kay and Shipman are way off the mark with this one. Confidence is not what is holding back women; institutionalized sexism is. Increased confidence cannot make up for the fact that women make $0.77 for every $1 men make. Women are nearly twice as likely (18% to 10%) to face discrimination in the workplace. Female entrepreneurs worldwide face greater obstacles to accessing the capital necessary to launch their businesses than their male counterparts. Women can still be fired for becoming pregnant and do not always have access to paid maternity leave. (My previous post addressed the lack of paid maternity leave in the US, the only industrialized country without it)
If a lack of confidence was holding women back, we wouldn’t need campaigns like Sheryl Sandberg’s “ban bossy.” Confident, authoritative women are seen in a negative light. This socialization stifling leadership qualities begins in elementary school, where female students are called on less and interrupted more. This persists throughout education to the point where women’s opinions are devalued to such an extent that they are viewed as no longer worth sharing.
Shipman and Kay’s confidence theory only further contributes to society’s belittlement of women, the same society that says employers can fire females for being too attractive (I’m looking at you, Iowa Supreme Court) and unpaid interns are not protected from sexual harassment because they are technically not employees. The message being sent by our current society is one that does not value the full dignity and autonomy of women as human beings. No amount of confidence can counteract that. Women can more effectively achieve equality by calling attention to these forms of ingrained sexism and working to change them. Change can begin to take place once we have paid maternity leave, raise the minimum wage, and have unrestricted access to reproductive health services. While some women, as well as some men, lack confidence which holds them back, categorizing all women as lacking confidence only harms our chances of gaining economic equality. It’s time we stop pushing these self-help theories developed predominantly by wealthy, white women, and start working to eliminate barriers to economic independence.
For further feminist reading debunking the confidence gap:
It’s Not the ‘Confidence Gap’ – Here’s What’s Really Holding Women Back by Elizabeth Plank (another favorite feminist of mine)
10 Ways Society Can Close the Confidence Gap by Soraya Chemaly
The Female ‘Confidence Gap’ is a Sham by Jessica Valenti