Why Women Lack Confidence – Gender Equality Rules

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What a productive few months this has been for wonderful books about women. My stack is growing and I feel I’ll have to give myself a reading week. Two recently published books currently waiting for a thorough reading and review in these pages, are The Gendered Brain by Gina Rippon, pictured below,

The Gendered Brain by Gina Rippon

and the much talked about Invisible Women from Caroline Criado-Perez. I am particularly excited about Caroline’s book, not least because I interviewed her when she was first starting out.

Invisible Women by Caroline Criado-Perez

Caroline’s book in particular will be much referenced. I write and deliver courses for women. It’s not that I don’t like men, I love them, (not keen on the patriarchy though but that’s another story). It’s just that, by and large, men don’t need confidence building courses in the same way that we do.

There are a plethora of surveys about why women don’t reach the top, become high achievers, get equal pay, get heard at work, etc, and most at some point will say that women lack confidence. That has irked me for a long time. Why do we lack confidence? Do we really lack confidence? Maybe men are over confident? Why are we compared to men? Why isn’t there a gender neutral bar to measure against? Why compare at all?

In the 1990s I went on a week long residential management course. After the first day I began to think: I’m not sure management is for me. Half way through the week the realisation struck – I don’t like this because they are teaching me to be like a man. Not actually being a man meant that I felt like an imposter, that I wasn’t quite making the grade, that to be successful, I had to stop trying to be true to myself. I’ve lost count of the number of meetings where my comments were laughed at for being too soft, (an example: could we stop talking about our staff as ‘units’ when a major reorganisation was underway). I was talked over, my ideas were taken and used but not attributed, everything you would expect. One good thing did come out of that management training; I decided to do a piece of work on why we had so few female managers despite our workforce being 80% female. It was a turning point. I couldn’t just moan about the situation, I had to propose some changes the organisation could implement. It earned me a few patronising ‘there, there’ pats on the head but many of the male managers did recognise the inherent bias in the organisation. A group of women got together and we did make changes happen.

It’s Not You, It’s Them

One of my personal changes was leaving and setting up my own business in 2003. Now when I run courses I tend to begin with my It’s Not You, It’s Them speech. Being a woman in a world primarily designed to suit the needs of men is confidence sapping, even if we don’t realise it. From birth onwards women are subtly treated as lesser beings than men. I cite evidence of how building design suits men ( toilets especially, why do we accept that there are never enough women’s loos and we have to queue, especially in the theatre! Storm the men’s loos I say, and have done, often), that the research done on the Flight/Fight syndrome was only done on men and no one knew that women can react differently, that for years women went undiagnosed with heart attack because doctors were only taught how men experience heart attacks, the list goes on. Caroline Criado-Perez has gone much further; she has spent 3 years researching how the world being designed by and primarily for men is bad for women. Not just in confidence but in our safety. Here’s a short extract from a review by Joan Smith ( click to read my interview with Joan.) to give you an idea:

This book, which demonstrates the bias men enjoy in both familiar (to me at least) and less obvious scenarios, sets the record straight. I knew, for instance, that women fare worse after heart attacks because they present with different symptoms from men; Criado Perez cites research showing that women are 50 per cent more likely to be misdiagnosed because they tend not to have the classic ‘Hollywood heart attack’, which begins with chest and left-arm pains. But I didn’t realise that women are also more likely to suffer serious injuries in a car crash because crash test dummies have traditionally been designed to reflect the ‘average’ male body. So have cars, as it happens, which means that women have to sit further forward – and are at greater risk in a frontal collision – when they are driving.

I probably should buy two copies as I am sure it is going to be well thumbed. Watch this space for more on both of those books. Once women begin to understand what is happening we can make changes. We need men on board too, (not literally on boards, we need more women there). Men also need to understand and be part of solving the problems. I fervently believe that a world which behaves in a gender neutral way will be a much better world for everyone. All of us will benefit.

Why Courses for Women?

Do I hear you ask…? Fair question and for information I am doing something for men in one of our major Universities very soon. However, my two courses are designed to give women the confidence to move on and take advantage of everything that might be on offer. To challenge the status quo, to help change happen, to understand what is happening. I have tried them in mixed groups but they didn’t work as well. The men enjoyed them but they often talked over the women and the women were careful not to hurt the men’s feelings and keen to help them out. Consequently they gained less than when doing the courses with other women. For me, what I do in organisations is often a first step in promoting change, widening the pool of women with enough confidence to play a significant part in promoting change, particularly Speak Up. That change may be personal or it may be professional. Or both.

I am trying a new approach, though. RenewYou is a one day personal development course for women, and it runs all over the world. A while ago I thought I wanted to try it a different way and advertised a day just around my kitchen table. I was getting a bit fed up with hotels and the difficulty of changing dates etc and making it, well, personal. It seems a lot of you agreed as the day in my kitchen filled up very quickly and I already have women waiting for the next one. Which will be on May 22nd, near Bath, once again around my kitchen table. And possibly in the garden, too. I’m very excited about it.

A day with renowned nutritionalist Jennette Hyde (interview with her coming soon, too) gave me food for thought in a very real way. Although not offered exclusively to women, we were all female and we were in a kitchen. All of us, in one way or another, were a bit stressed, just with day to day life really: caring responsibilities, or work stress, or health issues, or working alone. It set off a train of thought about designing a new course that was designed to be nurturing, supportive, and a way of looking after ourselves,. I suppose a bit of a mind spa, really. My two the courses have stood the test of time and I know they work well.

However, when writing them there were loads of slightly more creative things I would like to have done but time didn’t allow me to. So, I have put together a day that incorporates some of these exercises, as well as some new ones. You may choose to use the day as an opportunity to reflect on life, work, relationships, future planning, or you may just use this day as a break, a treat for you, your own quiet space in a busy world. There will not be any technology whatsoever, except for my oven, as I will cook for you using one of Jeannette’s recipes. (I might also make cake using one of mine…) It’s planned for May 1st. I am only taking 6 per course as I want to be able to give you individual attention as well. This first day, as it’s still a little experimental, will only be £160, half the usual rate. At the time of writing I have 3 spaces left so if you’re interested please do get in touch. I very much look forward to hearing from you.

Changing People licences experienced trainers and organisations to deliver its International RenewYou programme for women.

Read more about it here


Posted on March 14th, 2019 by

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