Closing the confidence gap

The glass ceiling for women in Baptist life may have much to do with self-confidence. That needs to change.

chandler croppedBy John Chandler

Imagine a tightrope stretched over a gorge. There are two figures attached to it. One is striding assuredly on top of the rope. The other is hanging on for dear life beneath the rope.

According to a new book by ABC and BBC reporters Katty Kay and Claire Shipman, that first figure is a man, and the second is a woman. In The Confidence Code: The Science and Art of Self-Assurance — What Women Should Know, these two highly capable journalists argue that confidence matters as much as competence. And they argue that the persistent disparity between male and female self-assurance is a major factor in explaining the glass ceiling that keeps women from leading at the highest levels.

It is simultaneously shocking and self-evident claim: “He thinks he can. She thinks she can’t.” But following up on their 2009 book, Womenomics, the high-achieving authors are not just confessing their own inner doubts. They are also rigorously documenting the skyrocketing costs of persistently low female confidence.

Studies from Manchester, Cornell, Yale and Berkeley reveal the same pattern: women with lower self-assurance hold back from speaking out and taking risks. Immobilized by ruminating perfectionism, they are correspondingly rewarded with fewer opportunities for advancement. Whereas men respond to low grades in a challenging course with, “Wow that was a tough class,” women instinctively respond with, “I knew I wasn’t good enough.” Each storyline predicts and shapes future engagement with demanding material. It turns out that under-confidence is more crippling than overconfidence.

The good news is that, regardless of whether low female confidence grows out of biology, upbringing, society or behavioral choices, that gap can be closed. How so? Kay and Shipman conclude with a powerfully simple statement: “Women need to stop thinking so much and just act.”

Our brains can change when we shift our patterns of thought and behavior (what neuroscientists call “plasticity”). Confidence can be self-perpetuating. Women who want to lead at higher levels will “lean in” to that decisiveness, leaving many of their “what if?” worries and reticence behind, and moving more self-assuredly into opportunities. They don’t wait until things are 100 percent assured before acting on them.

Baptist women, the church and the world need your voice! Don’t fret and don’t withhold what you have to offer. If God has called you to lead, then set your face like flint and move confidently to lead.

OPINION: Views expressed in Baptist News Global columns and commentaries are solely those of the authors.