By: Hira Ali
It’s a common thought that women-only training focused on gender-specific challenges undermines equality because it divides problems by gender. But it’s important to acknowledge that there are specific traits distinct to both men and women. A shortage of female confidence is not a myth — it’s quantified, researched, and documented.
1) Proven differences between the female and male brain.
Gender neutral leadership training often overlooks the fact that men and women have different leadership styles because they are based in different thought processes. It’s about time we acknowledge those differences.
For example, men are more self-oriented, while women are more community-focused. A woman’s decision-making process is unique and even more distinctive when combined with the dynamics and subtleties of her personality and style.
Dr. Daniel Amen, author of Unleash the Power of the Female Brain, has discovered differences in female and male brains. His research reveals that female brains are more active in almost all areas, especially in the prefrontal and limbic cortex.
One study suggests that women have 30% more neurons firing at any given time than men do. This supports strengths including empathy, intuition, collaboration, and self-control, but it also makes women more vulnerable to anxiety, depression, pain, and insomnia.
For too long, women at the pinnacle of their careers have increasingly adopted male qualities to reach the C-level, but it’s at the detriment of their own wellbeing. A recent Stanford Business School study shows that women who can combine male and female qualities accomplish more than everyone else. Recognizing these gender-specific traits and leveraging them to succeed requires self-awareness — a quality that the most accomplished leaders embody.
Jennifer Wiley, my co-founder and development partner of Career Excel, an online women’s leadership program specifically designed to help women achieve their potential, believes that “It’s important to address the underlying challenges and personal barriers that typically hold women back at work more so than men.”
2) Social and cultural conditioning has led to gender stereotyping.
In my book, I explore how social and cultural conditioning impacts stereotypes. Many women I surveyed for the book recognized an issue that is commonly called the “gender discount.”
In The Confidence Code, Lindsay Hudson, Chief Executive Officer of BAE Systems, notes:
Success and likability are positively correlated for men, but successful women are seen as overly ambitious and/or bossy. Compounding the issue, professional penalties for men and women are quite different, too.
Hence, it’s safe to assume that there are social realities that augment female self-doubt. Given these socialized differences between genders, women have developed internal challenges that carry a deeper social context and are closely intertwined, as revealed by my global survey of 300 women.
Women need focused programs to make them aware of their innate biases and help them discover a supportive community of other women who share the same challenges. It’s important that women are not expected to lead by adopting a male leadership model. Rather, it is more helpful to think about women as “equal but different.”
3) Women enter the workforce far less confident than their male counterparts.
A Girl Guiding study recently found that while 63% of seven-to-ten-year-old girls feel confident in themselves, only 31% of 17-to-21-year-olds feel that way, with only a small percentage believing they have an equal chance of succeeding compared to their male colleagues.
Another survey conducted by the American Association of University Women revealed that girls emerge from adolescence with a poor self-image, relatively low expectations from life, and much less confidence in themselves and their abilities than boys do.
In 2011, the United Kingdom’s Institute of Leadership and Management found that half the female respondents reported self-doubt about their job performance and careers, compared with less than a third of male respondents. Author of Women Don’t Ask, Linda Babcock found in studies of business school students that women initiate salary negotiations four times less than men.
Confidence in boys largely remains unfazed as they progress into manhood. However, as girls mature, their need to belong intensifies, and they often adjust their ambitions and even attempt to tame their confidence so others don’t form negative opinions about them. As a result, their confidence takes a beating and the otherwise self-confident 13-year-old eventually gives way to a hesitant, unsure 20-30-year-old who thinks twice before owning her success.
Research indicates that the earlier this training is imparted, the easier it will be for women to make their way to the top. According to UN Women, young women experience discrimination based on both gender and age. In particular, critical gaps in skills development and mentorship impact the ability of young women to realize their full potential as leaders.
In the KPMG Women’s Leadership Study, professional working women believe it is critical for companies to support a woman’s development in her twenties (80%) and career advancement in her thirties (61%). Entry-level working women report the lowest levels of confidence, illustrating a strong need for confidence-building at the onset of a woman’s career.
This research underlines how critical it is to empower women to reach the highest ranks by socializing leadership early in life and providing corporate development programs that enable them to do so.
“Investing in developing young women’s leadership skills will not only change the course of their future, but also that of their communities,” said Aaida Abu-Jaber, Head of Marketing and PR at IGI and the company’s D&I Champion who has recently invested in a women’s leadership program for training junior and middle management women across five countries.
Companies should offer this training not only because it help advance the women in their organization, but also because it helps promote inclusive, collaborative cultures that fuel innovation. Men, too, should pursue training that will teach them how to be better male allies. After all, inclusive cultures consistently beat homogenous ones when it comes to revenue, profitability, and decision-making.
Hira Ali is an author, writer, speaker, and executive coach focused on women’s and ethnic leadership development, closing the gender gap, and breaking the glass ceiling. She is the Founder of Advancing Your Potential and International Women Empowerment Events and Co-Founder of Career Excel and The Grey Area. Contact her on Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram, or Facebook. You can buy her book here.
This content was originally published here.