The key to success: confidence?

There are two vital components in success: competence and confidence. Women’s competence in the working world has never been more apparent; they earn more college and graduate degrees than men do and are closing the gap in middle management. Yet, despite this progress, women are still underrepresented. There is a lack of women at the top jobs, and the numbers aren’t increasing much. The root of this stubborn fact lies in how women, overall, lack confidence.

In a study about business-school students at Carnegie Mellon University, it was found that men initiate salary negotiations four times more often than women do, and when women do negotiate, they tend to ask for about 30% less money than men ask.  At the end of the school year at Manchester Business School, graduates are asked to predict their earnings in five years, and “every year there are massive differences between the male and female responses” says Marilyn Davidson, a professor at the university. According to the survey, men thought they deserve on average US$ 80,000 a year, while females around US$ 64,000. In comparison with men, women also don’t consider themselves as ready for promotions as men, generally underestimating their abilities.

This difference in attitude stems from multiple factors, ranging from upbringing to biology. The lack of female confidence can be explained biologically by testosterone and estrogen. These two differences between men and women affect very subtle personality dynamics. While estrogen supports the part of the brain involved in social skills and observation, it also seems to promote bonding and emotional connection, as well as discoursing conflict and risk-taking.

Conversely, testosterone fuels what is viewed as “classic confidence.” Men have as much as 10 times more testosterone in their system than women do, and this affects their competitive instinct. High testosterone levels are tied to a greater appetite for risk-taking. Scientists from Cambridge University conducted a study in which they measured traders’ testosterone levels at the start and end of the day. They found that the traders took more risks on days beginning with higher levels of testosterone. When those trades benefitted them further, their testosterone levels spiked even more.

As Stanford psychology professor Carol Dweck learned in her research, confidence derives from environment and positive feedback, and it must be cultivated from a young age. Girls are first given positive feedback in school and rewarded for being well behaved, instead of energetic and outgoing. The result of this is that many girls avoid taking risks and making mistakes. Meanwhile, boys tend to receive more punishment for their actions, and this process outlines how they learn to take failure and earn confidence.

Boys also benefit from their social interactions, whether it be during recess or after school. Starting as early as kindergarten, they roughhouse and tease each other, making themselves resilient through this process. They learn this through many activities, one of which is sports. Girls, on the other hand, miss out on this valuable lesson outside of school. Playing sports isn’t only healthy in the physical sense, but assists majorly in confidence levels. Girls who play on a team sport are more likely to graduate university, find a job, and be employed in male-dominated industries. There is an even larger link between playing a sport in high school and earning a greater salary as an adult. Learning to own victory and accept defeat in sports trains children to own achievements, and survive obstacles in the working world. And despite the benefits sports provide, fewer girls participate in athletics than boys.

Girls lose confidence and deprive themselves from regaining it early in life, and although they leave school valuing their mental capacities and abilities, the rules change from the high school classroom to the cubicle in the office. Confidence is the belief in one’s ability to succeed, which manifests itself into one’s actions as well. It accumulates through hard work, success, and failure and by channeling hard work, the brain should mold itself to become more prone to confidence.