Women need to see themselves with the same confidence as the white man – 03/10/2023 – Deborah Bizarria

In this month in which we celebrate Women’s Day, the government has already announced a bill on equal pay between men and women that will hardly solve the disparity, as I and other specialists point out. Part of this difference is due to the weight of motherhood and the social norms related to childcare, issues that have already been addressed in other countries by public policies such as improved access to daycare centers, shared parental leave and exposure of women to traditionally male disciplines at school. However, there is another cause for the disparity that still needs to be proposed: the difference in self-confidence between men and women.

To understand levels of self-confidence compared to abilities, researchers Joyce Ehrlinger and David Dunning decided to conduct an experiment using a test on scientific reasoning and questionnaires on their own competence in the subject. In self-assessment, women evaluated themselves more negatively than men; they gave themselves a 6.5 on average and the men a 7.6 on a scale of 1 to 10. After the test, the women thought they got 58% of the questions right, the men 71%. Despite the clear distinction of self-perception, the results of the knowledge test were very similar: the success rate for women and men was 75% and 79%, respectively.

One might think that the difference in self-confidence would not necessarily have a real impact, since the competence is so similar. To solve this doubt, these same researchers invited the students to a science competition with prizes —without disclosing their performances in the knowledge tests. A significantly smaller proportion of women chose to participate, with only 49% of them applying, compared to 71% of men. That is, the lack of confidence in their own abilities led the students not to take a risk in the competition for the award.

Still in line with understanding how personality traits affect wages, Leonora Risse, Lisa Farrell and Tim Fry analyze data on income and personality of Australians. Their analysis indicates that men suggest having a higher level of self-confidence, greater beliefs in their own ability to succeed, less fear of failure and less agreeableness. These traits are all linked to higher wages. At the same time, the only personality trait that seems to give women an advantage in terms of pay is their greater level of diligence and care for work and staff. These results indicate that it is possible that women end up relying more on competence in their current work than risking proactively seeking more challenging jobs — even if they have the necessary competence for new challenges.

That is, it is not a lack of competence or experience that can prevent women from seeking jobs with better pay. It is often a matter of a lack of confidence in one’s own talent. But there are some initial ideas on how to deal with the problem. Barbara Carlin and other researchers pooled experiences in the private sector and evidence in the trust-building literature. Solutions include project-specific feedback sessions, mentoring opportunities, public speaking classes and webinars—all of which have an impact on self-confidence.

In addition, the authors point in the direction of organizational changes in the management of companies. Realizing that confidence is not the same thing as competence, rewarding employees according to real deliveries and not being carried away by appearances, in addition to favoring productivity, it helps women advance. In companies where measures are implemented, organizations can benefit from talent and potential leadership that without some confidence gain could not be used before, that is, there are gains in human capital efficiency.

Similarly, it increases the attractiveness for potential new hires among women who will assess how well the organization currently utilizes women’s talents and leadership.

The challenge for researchers and policy makers is to incorporate the evidence on the trust gap into educational programs to ensure better use of women’s human capital.

While new studies and new ideas emerge, it is worth reminding readers: do not doubt your abilities.

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