Why Do Women Feel Inferior with Superior Preparation?

For years now, various businesses and corporations have highlighted their efforts to recruit and promote women, and to improve gender diversity across their employee populations. In some respects, those efforts seem to have paid off, and women are now significantly more present in the corporate world than they were 20 years ago. But unfortunately, progress toward true gender equality—particularly at the executive level—has remained frustratingly slow. Why? 

There’s no single answer, but it is clear that many of the challenges that women face in the workforce in fact begin much earlier. Female college students report significantly lower confidence about their career readiness than their male counterparts do. According to McGraw-Hill Education’s 2018 Future Workforce Survey, only 36 percent of college women feel prepared for their future careers, compared to a full 50 percent of men. Oddly enough, the survey also showed that women are more likely than men to use career advisors, mentoring/shadowing opportunities, and other job-search resources. If women are more likely to proactively prepare for the workforce, why do they feel so much less confident? 

In a 2014 article published by The Atlantic titled “The Confidence Gap,” authors Claire Shipman and Katty Kay argue that the issue is not with “career readiness” as we call it, but rather with self-esteem. Women have slowly worked their way up corporate ladders and reached new heights in various industries. Yet, unfortunately, men’s dominance in the corporate world has affected the confidence of aspiring undergraduate students. Stories of women being overlooked for promotions and growth opportunities seem to have trickled down into the minds of young women, first encouraging them to take more steps to prepare themselves for the workforce, then leaving them with feelings of inadequacy and failure.

As a woman and a student, these statistics and anecdotes resonate deeply with my own experiences. I have taken many steps to prepare for my future while attending college, yet somehow I always feel inadequate. I have a dream to enter the healthcare administration field, something that I am extremely passionate about. Unsurprisingly, men dominate the field of administration, particularly executive positions, which I, of course, am interested in. The fear of being overlooked because of my gender lingers ever since I made the decision to attend graduate school to obtain my MHSA degree. I have worked hard to make sure I stand out while working through my undergraduate degree, and unfortunately, I feel like I must work twice as hard as my male counterparts to reach my career goals.

A recent article published in Forbes suggests that the confidence gap may be due in part to the fact that “confidence” is an age-based statistic. The piece notes that while both men and women see their confidence grow with age, women seem to hit their “confidence growth spurt” later, finally becoming as confident as men in their early 60s. Thus, it is at the ripe age of 61 that women will finally find comfort in knowing that they are, in fact, “good enough.” Personally, I can’t say I find that statistic reassuring; even if women and men develop their sense of sureness differently, there is still no reason that women should be lagging. So what can women do to buck this trend, and bump up our confidence a few decades early? 

I’ve been lucky enough to find several ways to grow my own confidence through an internship at McGraw-Hill. Most significantly, even though I am only 21 years old, I’m beginning to feel like my work matters. Take this article for example: here I am writing for people like you to read while you’re scrolling through your social media feeds. That may seem like a minor accomplishment, but after my years of schooling, it’s helped me finally feel like I’m ready for a career. I can honestly say that waiting until I’m 61 to feel like I’m “enough” is not an option—I won’t let it be. I have had excellent mentors who have pushed me to reach my goals, and because of that, I have hope that women around the world can feel confident in their career journeys.

Women cannot sit and wait for their confidence to bloom after the mid-part of their lives. We are as ready and as capable as our male counterparts, and our self-confidence must reflect that fact. Parents, educators, mentors and peers must encourage women’s growth and self-assurance beginning at an early age, until the gap between men and women—as well as the gap between women’s preparedness and women’s confidence—has been closed. The time is now to change the perceptions of young women and girls everywhere. 

I am currently a senior at Denison University and majoring in both Communication and Psychology. Upon graduating, I will pursue her Masters of Healthcare Services Administration at Xavier University in Cincinnati with the goal of entering management in the non-profit healthcare sector. I have been very active at Denison serving as President of Mortar Board honor society, co-President of a nationally recognized, campus-hosted feminist blog, Her Campus, and have volunteered in a local Big Brothers Big Sisters program for over three years.