Claire Shipman and Katty Kay
Giving Up? Don’t You Dare!
Claire Shipman, a reporter for ABC News, and Katty Kay, the anchor of BBC World News, made a case in the May 2014 magazine, The Atlantic, that women are still their own worst enemy. Their message received a lot of play on morning news and talk shows and in the newspapers around the country. At the risk of over simplifying their argument, what I took from their well documented essay is that women are more intent at minding their manners, stepping aside from their own dreams when challenged, working hard without taking credit and hoping that someone will notice and reward them for their efforts. One could easily extrapolate that the majority of girls show the same behavioral patterns. Shipman and Kay are correct in their beliefs that women today have as good of an education, maybe better, than the majority of men do and that women hold more undergraduate and graduate degrees than do men.
All for naught. The average man still gets farther with less stellar credentials and with the same or less work experience as a woman may have when it comes to salaries, benefits and promotions. So what is the problem?
I covered much of the same ground in my book Finding Center: Strategies to Build Strong Girls and Women (2007). I provided a quiz for readers to take to measure the agentic characteristics of independent girls and young women with the hope that if more young women and their mothers and fathers were aware of them, they would be in a better position of practicing the very behaviors which lead to confidence. In another chapter that speaks to women as assets, I asked that adults tell the truth to girls and young women: that education counts, that full-time work counts more than part-time work, that women can balance full-time work and children without ruining their children, that girls/women must become financially savvy around the basics of making and handling their own money and retirement investments, and that women must simply get comfortable with and skilled in the art of negotiation.
In graduate classes of professional men and women and in workshops for women of all ages, I have found that girls and women are uncomfortable and ill-equipped to negotiate for their own needs, wants and desires to build their own lives. They are easily backed away and down when confronted with the age-old accusations that they are selfish, unrealistic, or could not possibly accomplish what they want. They are easily swayed to give up their ambitions, stay close to home if not in the home or to stay away from a path that involves the direct competition with other boys and men. What brings blood to my face when I contemplate this pattern of control is that too many girls and women throw their dreams away before they have given themselves a chance to explore how they might build those very dreams.
I maintained then as I do now that girls and women are of equal value as human capital. The society that both men and women live in today is light years away from the world of their parents and grandparents. Yet, much of the mindset and most of the policies have not changed to address the nature of today’s work place, the needs of families, and obligations tied to the care and nurturing of our young children and to the largest generation of aging adults in American history.
Confidence is grown from trying, failing, trying again and succeeding. Confidence comes from increasing one’s capacity to negotiate by understanding that negotiation does not mean getting everything you want all of the time or by getting all of the new deal without giving up some of the old ways. One cannot retreat into the past when it is comfortable when what may be necessary is to acquire new behaviors and responsibilities. A girl cannot learn to become a skilled soccer player by quitting when her knees or ego get bloodied or by choosing to sit in the stands and watch. Staying in the game is what confidence requires. Negotiation does not mean destroying another to get what you may want but rather skilled negotiation involves compromise, building new skills and patterns of behaviors to get things done whether what needs to be done is taking care of children or for competing for a coveted job opportunity.
“In studies, men overestimate their abilities and performance, and women underestimate both. Their performances do not differ in quality.”
“What doomed the women was not their actual ability to do well on the tests. They were as able as the men were. What held them back was the choice not to try.”
Claire Shipman & Katty Kay
Closing the Confidence Gap
Shipman and Kay are on the mark when they say boys and men do not hold themselves up to a perfect standard before they try: they just “do” and learn from doing. They are not more skilled or more capable than girls and women. What they do is to try, fall down, talk it through with a boy pack, get back up and get out there again. And, they are able to talk about what they learned from the process of trial and error and success.
If you are a girl or a woman thinking about giving up on your dream, I challenge you with this. Don’t you dare! Get out there. Form a team. Find a mentor. And if you don’t know where or how to start, then find a girl or woman who has done what you want to do and ask her to help you begin. And until you are able to do that, get on your computer and enter these words: how to build confidence in girls and women. Hit enter.