By Ashley Sharp, executive director at Dwell with Dignity.
Scholars cite many reasons why the gender pay gap persists in 2022, often missing a lesser-known yet key cause—the confidence quandary.
People point to common culprits for the pay gap, such as unconscious biases, unequal caregiving expectations, educational roadblocks and flawed hiring practices. But, it’s a woman’s aversion to risk—the confidence quandary—that often holds them back in the workplace.
I am confident enough to tell you that you can be confident enough to overcome this obstacle to your success.
Why Your Mindset Matters
Self-help gurus always talk about the importance of your mindset. While I don’t buy into much of the self-help advice that litters my social media feed, I can’t deny the importance of moving through life with confidence and faith in yourself.
Feeling confident in your abilities and being ready to communicate your value at any time or place can serve you well in your day-to-day life. It can set you apart from the crowd, setting you up for promotions and raises.
The Problem With Confidence
People often interpret confidence differently based on the gender of the person showing it. When a man is confident and not afraid to share his expertise, people usually see a leader. When a woman is confident and not afraid to share her expertise, people tend to see her as bossy.
Despite the efforts of workers and businesses to eliminate this double standard, female professionals can still deal with backlash for showing their strength. That’s why many women choose to remain silent in meetings.
From a young age, girls are conditioned to be respectful, obedient and collaborative. We’re awarded for planning and perfectionism. We’re punished for upsetting the balance, taking risks and speaking our minds too often.
By the time women are old enough to enter the professional workforce, they can perceive interpersonal conflict and healthy debate as detriments.
I was taught that I could avoid mistakes by planning, preparing and showing caution in every step I take. However, mistakes are inevitable—whether we like to admit it or not. No amount of prior preparation can ensure that we never make a misstep.
Learn To Embrace Risk
Men don’t typically have this problem. They are usually raised to be daring risk-takers who aren’t afraid to make mistakes to achieve their end goal. This difference in upbringing directly contributes to the gender pay gap.
When a female professional doesn’t feel 100% confident in a particular subject, they’re likely to stay silent. On the other hand, when a male professional feels underqualified, they’re more likely to risk failure if it means there’s a chance they could reap the rewards of voicing their opinion.
Even if men have little or no experience in a certain subject, company leadership often notices their confidence. That’s why when executives debate a promotion, men are more likely to receive the position—despite female employees receiving higher average performance scores.
We can talk all day about how women need to pursue degrees in higher-earning disciplines or about how to improve hiring practices, but we can’t forget to address the confidence quandary.
The next time you’re in a meeting, challenge yourself to speak your mind even if you’re not sure your opinion is correct. It can be scary to risk embarrassment or error, but the risk of not speaking up is far greater.
We all need to get used to being uncertain in the workplace. It isn’t fun to have someone shoot down your ideas, but it’s way less fun to make less money for the same work or to lose one promotion after another.
Rethink The Concept Of Failure
I’m not here to tell you that it’s easy to start taking risks and making mistakes, especially if you have thought of those two things as failures for your entire life. To achieve the success you’ve always imagined, you must reframe how you think about failure—it’s not final. In fact, it’s necessary.
Try thinking of each misstep as a learning opportunity and a sign that you’re pushing yourself to do bigger, better things. Putting yourself out there can be hard at first, but the more you do it, the easier it will get. If we don’t take risks, we’ll never achieve complete equality.