Closing the gender confidence gap

History will tell us that there was a time when women did not work outside the home at all. Even now, many women around the world are told that they are not good enough to have careers, to participate in decision-making, or to have an education. This has led women to accept that they cannot hold power, vote, or even open a bank account without their spouse’s signature.

It is through social movements that new standards and demands are created. By 2019, more than 70 countries have had female leaders, and more women have finished college and begun to enter and thrive in traditionally male-dominated professions. Still, the goal of gender equality remains elusive. Even when women started to make names for themselves, the popular expectation remained—that women should assume to be the primary caregiver. Many people still think that if you are a mother, or expecting to be one, you should not be in the workplace. Furthermore, when working women prioritize professional responsibilities over their perceived duties as a homemaker, they are often portrayed as selfish—an unfit parent and partner.

We are our worst critics. Success and confidence in one’s professional pursuits can be sources of our greatest joys. According to the “Women in the Philippine C-Suite,” a study done by the Philippine Business Coalition for Women Empowerment (PBCWE) and the Makati Business Club in 2019, women (70.4 percent) have lower confidence levels than men (87.1 percent) when taking on leadership roles “immediately.” While both women (95.1 percent) and men (96.1 percent) have nearly equal confidence levels in terms of their own skills, education, and leadership potential, a declining trend in confidence is shown among women with intents to explore leadership roles or when taking on opportunities for leadership positions.

The disparity in confidence stems from factors such as gender stereotypes, societal expectations, and social perceptions drilled into us by educational institutions, mass and social media, community, and family influences. Girls are expected to be well-behaved, accommodating, and polite; boys are encouraged to take risks and control their emotions. Occurrences of misbehavior are dismissed because, well, “boys will be boys.” In the workplace, women tend to be assigned to support service-oriented positions rather than mission-critical, operational-oriented jobs. These generalizations are often internalized by women and men, resulting in an adaptive function to categorize themselves as such.

Despite being conscious about what’s good in us, we are our worst critics because we continuously question ourselves and echo what we have been told all our lives. This is the reason why the gap is hard to close—but it isn’t impossible.

Fix the system, not the women. Building confidence starts in families, communities, and schools. It can be as simple as asking boys and girls to share in house chores, making them speak and affirm that opinions matter, and allowing them to show emotions. It can be as simple as challenging statements such as “that’s not a woman’s place” or “that job is not fit for a woman.” It can be as simple as being and affirming role models—confident, capable women who are high achievers and recognized, respected, and supported by their families, communities, and workplaces.

It’s time to talk about the changing role of younger families and how we are seeing men do cleaning, homework supervision, laundry, and the like. Progressive policies such as paid parental leaves will encourage fathers to take on an equal share in caring for their children. Organizations can offer training programs aimed at getting more women into leadership positions to challenge gender stereotypes.

Unleashing the potential of women is the fastest multiplier that we have—an accelerator in fighting inequality.

Julia Abad is the Executive Director of FEU Public Policy Center Foundation Inc.

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