Yesterday one of our very accomplished adjuncts and alumni and I were having a conversation about how different the male and female students were as presenters during their comp exam. We had young women with really great work who undersold it so that it looked merely adequate, and young men with acceptable work who acted like they had just invented the internet. Now, I am proud of all of my students, and my characterization here is a generalization. But it happened enough during the day that my compadre noticed it.
We discussed how lack of confidence affects young women’s careers in consulting. In my case, it lead me to stand behind a much more voluble man for years while I produced analysis after analysis for him. I never learned to sell myself the way he did, and as a result, people credited him with the originality and technical skill that I had actually contributed.
This obviously has consequences for pay, and my compadre said to me, as we were drinking coffee, “You know, I think the pay gap is really women’s fault, for not being more confident.”
You can’t just expect somebody to be confident when they are told from the minute they enter this world that they can’t be any good at anything besides being pretty, taking care of other people, deferring, or being nice. And you can’t expect them to be assertive when every time they are assertive, they are punished either socially or professionally, and usually both.