As women we’ve made undeniable progress over the years. We earn more college and graduate degrees than men do, we make up half the workforce, etc. Yet, men continue to get promoted faster and be paid more. And experts believe this disparity stems from something called the confidence gap: the theory that women are less self-assured than men—and that to succeed, confidence matters as much as competence.
I had experienced and witnessed other women go through this on and off over the years, and now it has a name and is backed by scientific research. This is great news! But my jubilation quickly shifted to panic when I realized that it was now up to me, the mother of a little girl: How could I bridge the gap and raise a confident daughter?
Of course, there’s no perfect answer, parenting can be a crapshoot, but here’s some suggestions I found useful:
- Be a role model - Even teenagers, whom we assume are easily swayed by peer pressure, say that their mom matters most: 63% of girls who report that they have a role model say it's their mom, and 48% turn to their mother for support when they have a problem. The way you act in front of your daughter largely influences her behaviour, and there are ways to model a healthy self-image that benefit both of you. It's not just what you say, but how you say it. “Women often speak in questions or begin with a caveat like, ‘I’m not sure this is right, but...’. Speak with conviction and encourage your daughter to do the same.
- Encourage her – Cast a wide net when encouraging your daughter to discover her passions. During a trip to the library, don't nudge her towards Disney princesses. Even if she's the girly-girl type, who's to say she wouldn't also love a world atlas?
- Help her take risks – It’s the very process of taking risks and messing up that builds confidence. Make a list of small things you can teach her to do on her own. The process of learning through trial and error will build her confidence.
- Tell her to take a stand – A disproportionate number of girls experience relational aggression. This is when kids intentionally exclude a child or coerce other children to leave someone out. Conflict is inevitable and for that very reason you need to teach your daughter how to handle it. For example, bullies often do not expect someone to stand up to them. In fact, they often target kids they believe they can intimidate. As a result, telling a bully to stop in a strong and confident voice can be very effective.
- It’s okay to express feelings - Emotions are an incredibly powerful tool, and we need to teach girls that when you feel angry or upset, it's a signal that something is important to you, and you should express it. When your daughter runs into trouble socially—let's say she's not invited to a birthday party—don't shrug it off and insist it's not a big deal. Instead, discuss it.
- Get involved – Consider getting your daughter involved in a group, whether it's a sports team, or friends who get together for a weekly art class. Girls are especially likely to express independence and pride when they're working with other kids. Team sports can be particularly beneficial for girls because winning and losing teaches resilience. In fact, in a recent online survey of 400 female executives worldwide, a full 94 percent of them had participated in sports, and 74 percent said that they had influenced their career potential.