How can we tackle the gender confidence gap?

I’ve never been too worried about putting content out on the internet, until it includes an opinion of my own, and then my confidence crumbles. There’s something far more personal about putting an opinion out there, than there is stating some facts. 

And so I started this blog post with some facts, because that was comfortable ground. But in doing that, I realised that the facts weren’t telling the whole story. So here goes - I’m modelling confidence and going outside of my comfort zone, to tell you about the gender confidence gap.

A few years ago, research confirmed what I think many of us already knew - there’s a gender confidence gap. While we've all heard of the gender pay gap, the confidence gap gets less airtime.

What is the gender confidence gap?

The gender confidence gap refers to boys and men commonly having more confidence than girls and women, despite there being no link to competence. In adulthood, an easy way to see this gap is in how we talk about our professions: women are more likely to cite “being lucky” or “in the right place at the right time” when work goes well, while men see it as “earned”. 

If this is what it looks like for adults, what does it look like for our children? Evidence shows that confidence levels are evenly matched for boys and girls until the age of 8. But between the ages of 8 and 14, girls’ confidence levels plummet by 30%. Why? Because the risk of failing is seen as greater for girls, and so they stop trying new things or taking risks, to prevent that failure. And when we don’t try, we lose confidence.

There's lots of information available on gender and confidence. But what we've found really interesting is how much of this relates to “hard” skills - like presenting, speaking up, asking for something - in turn focusing on what girls often lack.

But what about confidence with “soft” skills? If we focused on them, would we find the gender confidence gap is reversed? Perhaps we’d see boy’s with lower confidence when it comes to showing kindness, being vulnerable, saying they’re afraid, asking for help. 

What if we started to celebrate these so-called “soft” skills more? Perhaps we’d boost confidence and reduce the gap for both genders?

What we can do to build our children’s confidence

At Ducky Zebra our mission is to inspire confidence (and kindness) in children. And here are 8 ways for how we can do so. Many of these suggestions have been inspired by a recent conversation with confidence coach Clara Warden, which you can watch back here

Be clever with language: with some very small changes, our language can inspire confidence. If a child says “I can’t ride my bike” we can say back “I can’t ride my bike yet”. This ‘magical yet’ was coined by Dr Aliza Pressman. It’s subtle, but can make a big difference and helps to encourage a growth mindset. 

Validate their feelings: If a child says they're scared or worried about doing something, we should validate their feelings. For example, “I completely understand why you might feel scared. When I was first learning to ride a bike I felt the same”. By validating their feelings, you're making the child feel confident in who they are, and how they're feeling.

Become a feelings detective: listen out for when children say things like “I can’t” or “I don’t want to”. These might be signs of one off things they’re struggling with, or a longer term negative mindset which we can help to shift. One way of shifting negative thinking, and building longer term confidence, is to try phrases like “I noticed you tried so hard there”. You’re taking hold of the negative and making it positive. 

Relate to how they’re feeling: By sharing a time when we felt anxious or worried, or when we tried something and it failed and we felt frustrated, we can let children know that what they’re feeling is okay, they’re not alone, and that confidence grows with practice. 

Redefine courage: children, and boys in particular, can feel a need to show bravery in a typically heroic way. We can start to boost boys' confidence around some of the softer skills, by redefining what bravery looks like: “It was really brave and kind of you to go and play with that child in the park.” Research shows that teenagers with empathy tend to be braver when it comes to helping others, such as defending those being bullied. Who doesn’t want that type of courage in their kids?

Model risk-taking: by trying something new that scares us, and doing it visibly for our children to see, we can celebrate failure and show that we don’t need to be perfect at something the first time we try it. We can also model a feeling or emotion, by saying when we’re finding something hard. 

Find role models: whether it’s seeing women on stage, men talking about how they feel, a girl demanding better of her leaders, or men asking for help - we can show our children examples like this regularly. By making it the norm, we can show how others use confidence, even when it’s scary.

Put them in charge: By allowing our children to design a day, a meal, a way of saying thank you, we’re giving them a chance to have a voice and try out decision making. It might not go perfectly, but that’s how we build confidence.   

Want to explore this topic more? 

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