It’s time we stop playing the blame game.
In an article for the Atlantic, Katty Kay and Claire Shipman reflect on recent studies that have shown that the greatest difference between male and female leadership comes down to a confidence gap. I’ve spoken about this before. Call it what you will, something inspires men to apply for more jobs, ask for more promotions and negotiate for higher salaries at a greater rate than women.
Elizabeth Plank of PolicyMic argues that this article just places more blame on the woman – she’s not confident enough, and that self-esteem is her fault: “Although it’s true that some women suffer from more self-defeating thoughts and lower self-esteem, gender inequality can’t be reduced to mental health issues. Women’s lack of opportunities in the workplace are due to much deeper issues, and it’s time we admit that. Instead of telling women to change their personalities, maybe it’s time we take a look at the entire system,” she says. “Kay and Shipman ultimately imply that the key to gender equality is women’s self-confidence, putting the burden on women to personally fix an institutional problem. The authors allocate a small paragraph to children and the lack of flexibility in the workplace when in fact that’s what drives most of the wage gap. Trying to solve gender inequality in the workplace by telling women to be more confident is like re-arranging the deck chairs on the Titanic after it hit the iceberg. It may give the passengers something to do, but it definitely won’t stop the ship from sinking.”
While Plank certainly suggests some fabulous ideas – better maternity leave policies, for example – I don’t think we have to view this as an either/or proposition. I don’t think the Atlantic article denied that there are deep-rooted cultural issues that make gender equality a challenge. Yes, it would be great to eliminate institutional racism and encourage more men to “act like women” – by which she seems to mean having a realistic impression of one’s own abilities. But those are long-term fixes for the gender imbalance in the workplace. I don’t see anything wrong with improving peoples’ self-confidence now, and I certainly don’t view it as a “mental health issue” (yes, I read that line from PolicyMic as Plank sneering that low self-esteem was something to be scorned. What tone did you read it as?).
So when I saw this piece (http://www.nbcnews.com/nightly-news/why-teaching-girls-brag-big-deal-n96811 – and for gosh sakes, can someone tell me how to embed links on WordPress?) on NBC News last night, I was happy. This is a quick fix, yes. This is, in comparison to Plank’s blanket fixes (“change our culture”), one simple thing we can try. I say, let’s try this for now. Teach girls to self-promote. #Banbossy. Increase confidence and self-affirmation in our girls who turn into our women – and maybe that’s HOW we start to change our culture.