“Am I smart enough for this?”, “Am I good enough?”, “Can I really do this?”- I asked myself these questions when I first applied to college, when I looked for scholarships, after I received a scholarship, when I changed my major to Economics, and after I successfully navigated quantitative courses related to the major. Even as I tried to enter the world of finance, I questioned: “Do I belong?”
My goal for the year 2021 is to work on my confidence. It is something I have struggled with for a long time. I grew up in an inclusive and supportive family. But, the world around me told me- overtly or covertly- that women had to be quiet, women had to be meek, and women had to be kind. It told me that I could not be assertive without coming across as rude and I could never be rude. There existed a dichotomy between what I was taught at home and what I saw outside. I was always encouraged to voice my opinion. However, as I grew up and when I was in company and disagreed, I thought twice before speaking out. Despite having the knowledge, I began to mute my voice.
This translated into my academic career. I found myself supplementing my answers in class with “I’m not sure” and “I could be wrong”. It was only recently that I stopped myself in my tracks and asked why I was doing this.
I decided to begin a journey of self-assurance. I immediately discovered a TED Talk by Britanny Packnett. Packnett is an author and an expert in the field of self confidence. While the entire talk is extremely enriching, one thing she said changed my perception of confidence. To paraphrase, she says that confidence should not be thought of as an add-on but as the most vital tool in one’s skill set. And it is a skill that numerous studies have shown, women severely lack. An article by The Atlantic details the confidence gap that even very accomplished women feel. It helped me realize that no matter where women stood on the professional spectrum, we all had similar internal experiences. I felt less alone. In fact, a study conducted by the National Bureau of Economic Research depicts that women are more likely than men to think that they underperform. A Forbes article explaining the study comments that even if women thought they did well, they were less likely than men to “self-promote.”
There is so much data describing the confidence gap but this seems like an obvious fact. The question we should be asking is why. Why do women feel the need to be modest? And why do we prize that quality in women when we admonish it in men- years after we have evolved from a hunter gatherer society?
An under-confidence that often leads to an easy excuse for gender disparity and the wage gap. But is it fair to promote that fatalistic argument? This confidence gap is a systematic problem that we cannot pretend to begin to solve through circular logic. We cannot say that women's’ under-confidence is the reason for disparity at the workplace when societal factors that result in women being less confident are out of their control. The problem is one of inequity and the solution presented is burdensome too.
With the rise of social media and women are proactively speaking about their experiences, this confidence gap is decreasing. But we have a long way to go. And we cannot achieve equity without sensitization towards the issue and emotional support of allies of gender equity. The question is one of economic equity in the workplace but also emotional equity. While policy changes are essential to provide long term and far reaching solutions, how do we bring immediate change on an individual level? What is a short term solution and how can it be achieved?
I do not have an answer to that question.
But I am starting with conversation: talking to family, friends, and my academic community about what emotional equity means. And while this isn’t an equitable solution to an overarching problem, on a personal growth level, I am also changing the way I speak to myself so that I can facilitate meaningful conversation with others. Yes, I still have a journey of learning and growth ahead of me. But I will not prize modesty above my self esteem. I will tell myself that I am good enough, smart enough, and I can really do this.