Currently, there are 25 women serving in the US Senate - but only 59 have achieved this status, ever. While women make up 46% of the workforce, only 10% are CEOs of Fortune 500 companies, which is considered an all-time high. And while the benchmark of power or financial achievement should never define an individual's success, the discrepancy between the sexes in these roles is still striking.
Social/cultural pressure and sexism notwithstanding, what is puzzling about this gender gap in positions of power and "traditional" success, is that girls typically surpass boys in their early development:
- Compared to boys, girls demonstrate more advanced verbal and fine-motor skills and a longer attention span. They develop organizational and attentional skills at an earlier age, and their reading and writing abilities surpass those of boys, on average, by 1 1/2 years.
- Girls also typically exhibit better social skills, including greater relational skills, patience, cooperativeness, and empathy.
- Girls excel throughout elementary school, often surpassing boys on most measures of academic success. Confident and curious, they approach learning with passion and drive.
Yet, pre-teen girls often lose confidence in middle school, that confluence of drama, social pressure, and self-scrutiny. Peer influences, cultural messages demanding conformity, and interest in boys have a powerful effect on self-esteem. Gifted and high-achieving girls have a particularly difficult time, as standing out as "brainy" and smart can limit social acceptance. Many bright girls learn to hide their talents so that they can fit in. However, hormonal and brain differences also may play a role in limiting risk-taking and contributing to a tendency toward overthinking and indecision.
1. View these biological influences as strengths - not weaknesses. Tendencies toward caution, and self-scrutiny, in their most positive form, can be aspects of conscientiousness - the variable most consistently associated with academic staying power. Highly focused, conscientious girls are more organized, diligent, and determined, and get the job done.
2. Embrace the collaborative, cooperative nature of women's relational strengths. More and more businesses are recognizing that a collaborative, team approach achieves faster results than an individual-centric one. Women excel at forming relationships; they see the big picture and recognize that motivation stems from commitment and challenge, that complexity is a strength, and that empathy will get you farther than harsh demands.
3. Work to eliminate fears when they affect self-esteem and success. If chronic self-doubt or fear of taking risks interfere with progress or personal well-being, it is time to seek help to eliminate the problem. Women are often less likely to ask for a raise or promotion than men. They need to reconsider their standards and consider when they are entitled to better treatment. Self-scrutiny, worry and hesitation may be common, but can be changed. Consider finding support from a mentor, supervisor, or trusted peers. And sometimes, counseling with a licensed mental health professional can help to eliminate remnants of self-doubt and uncertainty.