Confidence is often listed as one of the main reasons women earn less than their male counterparts. In fact, the lack of confidence in professional women to ask for more responsibility and more money is incredibly prevalent, and yet so many women believe it’s a thing of the past.
Yes, it’s been almost 100 years since the first woman was elected to a congressional seat and women won the right to vote in this country. So it is naturally absurd to think that women are still far behind in having equal rights in the workforce and, yet, is it?
The Discovery of Epigenetics
Consider recent advancements in genetics that have brought forth a whole new field of theory and research called epigenetics. If we consider epigenetics in relation to a woman’s confidence, might we find that modern women are still paving the way and going where few woman have gone before (genetically speaking)?
“According to the new insights of behavioral epigenetics, traumatic experiences in our past, or in our recent ancestors’ past, leave molecular scars adhering to our DNA. Like silt deposited on the cogs of a finely tuned machine after the seawater of a tsunami recedes, our experiences, and those of our forebears, are never gone, even if they have been forgotten. They become a part of us, a molecular residue holding fast to our genetic scaffolding. The DNA remains the same, but psychological and behavioral tendencies are inherited. You might have inherited not just your grandmother’s knobby knees, but also her predisposition toward depression caused by the neglect she suffered as a newborn.” ~ Dan Hurley, June 2015; Discover Magazine
Epigenetics and Confidence
I’m certainly not a scientist, but I believe today’s modern woman is genetically in uncharted territory — a place that, at times, can feel lonely, uncertain and scary; a place that is also ripe for learning.
As blogger and author Allison Vesterfelt so eloquently states in Women, Confidence and The Problem No One is Talking About,
“We can’t ignore that, for decades (centuries) women have been taught to be silent, stay at home, remain uninformed, listen to their husbands, obey the rules, to play nice, and to take care of others at the expense of themselves. There is just no way this legacy wouldn’t make it difficult for a person—any person—to feel confident in their own sense of self-worth.”
As an experiment, let’s look at the timeline of my female ancestry as one example of how far women have come (and still have to go).
- My mother was born in 1954 on a chicken farm in rural North Carolina to a family of three brothers. Her mother died of cancer when she was 16. At age 18, she went to college for two years, became an x-ray technician, moved to the bigger city nearby and got married. When my brother was born, she quit work stay at home, but also ran a brass-cleaning business for antique dealers out of our basement (hard, grueling work). Today she is back at work as an x-ray tech at the hospital.
- My paternal grandmother was born in 1926 to farmers in rural North Carolina. She raised three children and ran a beauty shop out of the back of her modest home in a small North Carolina town. She died of lung cancer when I was sixteen, so I barely knew her.
- I have an older half-sister born in 1969 who received a four year degree and an additional two years training as an interior decorator. She worked for about a decade before quitting to stay at home to raise my niece and nephew. Over the last 15 years, she’s been donating time to various volunteer opportunities and the occasional part-time gig.
- In 1981 I was born. I’ve received a master’s degree, multiple certifications, awards for my work and I own a successful business. I was told I could be anything I wanted to be and so I’ve devoted most of my life to my career.
I’m the first woman in my family to achieve so much professional success. But all of this wasn’t without great sacrifice, hard work, challenging self-discovery and a strange sense of feeling alone in it all.
Rarely have I encountered older feminine role models to guide myself by. In fact, my greatest influence in my career has been my female peers who have worked alongside me in college and in my professional life.
But what happens when lack of confidence in women becomes so prevalent in the workplace?
Competition Takes Over
According to Joyce Benenson, an associate of Harvard's Human Evolutionary Biology Department and a Psychology professor at Emmanuel College:
“From early childhood onwards, girls compete using strategies that minimize the risk of retaliation and reduce the strength of other girls. Girls' competitive strategies include avoiding direct interference with another girl's goals, disguising competition, competing overtly only from a position of high status in the community, enforcing equality within the female community and socially excluding other girls.”
So what happens when you combine lack of confidence among women in the workplace with biological tendencies towards competition? A scene from The Devil Wears Prada, that’s what!
In fact, one of the big reasons women don’t get promoted in the workplace is because women at higher levels do not help other women who are trying to get ahead. Women at the top often experience something called competitive threat or value threat, which causes them to not want to help other women.
“Competitive threat is the fear that a highly qualified female candidate might be more qualified, competent or accepted than you are,” says Michelle Duguid, PhD, assistant professor of organizational behavior at Olin Business School and author of Female Tokens in High-prestige Work Groups: Catalysts or Inhibitors of Group Diversification.
So here is the possible scenario for many women — genetically lacking confidence and biologically wired to compete against one another — aren’t we a fun bunch! Perhaps the only way some women know how to show up in their power and confidence is to compete and out-do other women — a cycle that must be stopped.
What is the Solution?
You are. All it takes is for you to wake up from the matrix of your genetic and biological tendencies to choose a different path.
Fake confidence until you feel it. Deny sabotaging other women. Catch your insecurities before they reek havoc on yourself and others in the workplace. Raise the vibration of your actions towards yourself and your feminine colleagues to a level that is compassionate, kind and forgiving.
Do us all a favor and drop your competitive nature, embrace your powers AND stand up for yourself AND other women behind, beside and ahead of you.
Stop acting like little girls on the play-ground and become the grown-up superwomen you were meant to be. It’ll feel so much better anyway.
Finally take a lead from Allison Vesterfelt,
“But most of all, confident women are taking a stand against their own jealousy and pessimism and perfectionism and competitive spirit and are saying to the women around them, ‘I think you are so brave and beautiful for doing that thing you just did.’ They’re taking notes and getting creative and telling themselves, ‘nothing is impossible… we can do this.’
You are a confident woman. That’s the truth.
You just might not know it yet.”
In our efforts to become more generous to one another and own our powers confidently, but not competitively, might we overcome genetics and biology to pave the way for future generations of women?