Building Shared Confidence to Tackle Gender Bias

Photo: Mary Stamm-Clarke

Building Shared Confidence to Tackle Gender Bias

There is a debate that rears it head again and again in article upon counter-article. Do we women need to have more confidence and put themselves forward for success or do we need cultural and institutionalized gender bias to be toppled in order to remove barriers to women’s advancement?

The reality is that we need both. But we also need to go one step further and look at the fact that women are often asked to be confident and stand on our own as individuals like female Davids taking on Goliath sized challenges of culture and institutional change. Meanwhile we are asked to do so in an environment that is in part devoid of nutrients due to criticism, lack of support and reinforcing of gender bias by women themselves along with that of men.

It would appear that women contribute to ongoing expectations of female behavior in the workplace far more than we would like to believe in spite of an increasing number of women’s leadership initiatives. We reinforce gender stereotypes or exact a cost for those who don’t adhere to them. This often comes down to a ‘double bind’ paradox that allows women to be either competent or liked, but not often both.

An extensive body of research illustrates the number of ways in which women’s confidence and competencies are undermined by other women. This makes it more difficult for women to collectively challenge institutionalized gender biases rather than having to go it alone. The research of Professor Isabell Welpe at Munich Technical University’s business school led her to believe that female stereotypes are more reinforced in the minds of women themselves, including accepting certain kinds of leadership styles from men but not from women.

For instance, women are punished for taking on agentic roles in which they put themselves forward as commanding and competent as demonstrated by Harvard research. Furthermore, there is a penalty for women being assertive and advocating for themselves rather than serving as advocates of others. This is reinforced by women and men alike, according to additional studies.

Our work relationships with one another also become that much more difficult to navigate in part because of unrealistic expectations that we should be accommodating and relational above all. Research published in the journal Academy of Management Perspective demonstrates that both women and men more harshly judge conflict between women in the work place than conflict between men. This may lead some successful women to dissociate themselves from and withdraw support from other women and what is stereotyped as ‘catty’ behavior. Itmay also be a contributing factor to what can become passive-aggressive ways in which women withhold support from one another and in doing so can sabotage one another’s careers.

At least one of these findings is likely to strike a chord with the experiences of many of us. In my own life strong, supportive and outspoken women have been the cornerstone of my upbringing and career along with some forward thinking men. At the same time, I have also faced significant challenges that stem from the criticism of other women or social and professional costs that have been exacted by female peers for being too assertive, asking to be treated with respect or have my competence fairly valued. All of these serve to keep women in line with social norms and ensure that we don’t pull too far ahead. They also strike at the heart of how comfortable different women feel with stepping out of traditionally ‘feminine’ roles and how confident they feel about themselves and their own accomplishments.

As the daughter of a psychologist and someone who has stood on both sides of insecurity let me say that it alienates us from our own strengths and that of others, leaving us anemic and isolated in the face of giant challenges. It can also make us fearful of change and anchor us to outdated but comfortable perceptions of ourselves, the women and men around us, and the institutions in which we work. This is not to mention that it deprives us of the tools, partnerships and determination needed to topple the foundations of discrimination.

To challenge the status quo takes confidence and courage. To navigate past the barriers that are regularly placed in our paths to reaching our own professional and career goals takes a huge amount of strength, skill and support. This may be even more challenging for some than others depending on race, class and sexual orientation.

Social work researcher Brene Brown emphasizes that much of leadership and success requires vulnerability- the courage to show up, to be seen, to take risks, make mistakes and support others in doing the same. And yet it makes it that much more difficult for women to be vulnerable and build the support needed for inspired, transformational leadership if we are under an unequal amount of scrutiny from other women and don’t know if those around them really have our backs.

The divisive nature of gender bias is made that much worse by the fact that it is far too easy for women to feel that there is a finite pie available and that a slice for another woman means less for them or that another woman getting a piece more quickly is a slight to their own success. We have all experienced these situations. It is not without reason that women have felt this way. It is often a long path to reaching the boardroom, securing the small pool of investment available for women’s businesses, getting research funding for female scientists’ work or becoming one of the disproportionately few female newspaper columnists.

And still, we need to make a fundamental choice to create collective confidence. As women we must go even further to encourage one another to find our own sense of self so that together we can challenge social norms and topple what can feel like giant, institutionalized gender biases. We need our institutions to be both receptive to our messages and proactive in making change. We need men at our sides as allies. But above all we need a league of female Davids working together to guide others in forging a new, more inclusive vision for how we do business.

Ama Marston is the founder of Marston Consulting which specializes in strategy and women’s transformative leadership. She has worked on five continents for women leaders like Mary Robinson the first woman President of Ireland as well as the UN, the private sector and a number of international NGOs. She writes for the Guardian and others on women’s leadership issues and holds workshops to develop transformative leadership in organizations.

Share small business news, blogs and social media tips with Project Eve’s community of small business owners and entrepreneurs today. Our contributors come from a wide range of backgrounds; so whether you are a small business owner, social media strategist, financial adviser, serial entrepreneur, or write an amateur blog we urge you to contribute a blog to our 500,000+ community today. For more information, please refer to our Content Submissions Guidelines.

Add a Blog


  1. Fantastic blog! Do you have any tips for aspiring writers? I’m planning to start my own website soon but I’m a little lost on everything. Would you advise starting with a free platform like WordPress or go for a paid option? There are so many choices out there that I’m completely overwhelmed .. Any tips? Bless you!

  2. Thanks for the recommendations you have discussed here. Something else I would like to mention is that laptop memory specifications generally go up along with other developments in the technology. For instance, as soon as new generations of processors are made in the market, there is usually a similar increase in the type demands of both the laptop memory along with hard drive space. This is because the application operated by means of these processors will inevitably rise in power to leverage the new technological know-how.

  3. It is my belief that mesothelioma will be the most fatal cancer. It’s got unusual properties. The more I look at it the greater I am persuaded it does not react like a real solid flesh cancer. In the event that mesothelioma is really a rogue virus-like infection, so there is the prospects for developing a vaccine as well as offering vaccination to asbestos uncovered people who are at high risk of developing long term asbestos related malignancies. Thanks for sharing your ideas on this important ailment.

  4. One thing I have actually noticed is the fact that there are plenty of common myths regarding the banks intentions when talking about property foreclosure. One misconception in particular is the bank prefers to have your house. The bank wants your hard earned cash, not the house. They want the amount of money they gave you having interest. Staying away from the bank will simply draw any foreclosed conclusion. Thanks for your posting.

  5. I believe that a property foreclosure can have a major effect on the applicant’s life. Mortgage foreclosures can have a Several to a decade negative affect on a debtor’s credit report. The borrower who’s applied for a home loan or virtually any loans even, knows that the actual worse credit rating is actually, the more tricky it is to obtain a decent bank loan. In addition, it may affect any borrower’s ability to find a decent place to lease or rent, if that results in being the alternative houses solution. Good blog post.

  6. I’m impressed, I need to say. Really hardly ever do I encounter a weblog that’s both educative and entertaining, and let me tell you, you’ve got hit the nail on the head. Your thought is outstanding; the difficulty is one thing that not sufficient individuals are speaking intelligently about. I am very completely satisfied that I stumbled across this in my search for one thing regarding this.

  7. What’s up friends, I am for a second time here, and reading this paragraph related to Search engine marketing, its also a fastidious paragraph, so keep it up.

  8. Hello There. I found your blog using msn. This is a very well written article. I’ll make sure to bookmark it and return to read more of your useful info. Thanks for the post. I’ll certainly comeback.

  9. Hello just wanted to give you a quick heads up. The text in your post seem to be running off the screen in Internet explorer. I’m not sure if this is a format issue or something to do with web browser compatibility but I figured I’d post to let you know. The layout look great though! Hope you get the problem resolved soon. Cheers

  10. One other issue is when you are in a situation where you will not have a co-signer then you may actually want to try to wear out all of your financing options. You could find many funds and other grants that will supply you with funds to help you with education expenses. Thank you for the post.

  11. Wonderful work! That is the type of information that should be shared across the internet. Shame on Google for now not positioning this put up higher! Come on over and seek advice from my web site . Thanks =)

  12. hello there and thank you for your information – I have certainly picked up something new from right here. I did however expertise several technical issues using this website, since I experienced to reload the site many times previous to I could get it to load correctly. I had been wondering if your web host is OK? Not that I am complaining, but sluggish loading instances times will often affect your placement in google and could damage your quality score if ads and marketing with Adwords. Well I am adding this RSS to my e-mail and can look out for a lot more of your respective interesting content. Make sure you update this again very soon..

  13. Hello There. I found your blog using msn. This is a very well written article. I will be sure to bookmark it and come back to read more of your useful information. Thanks for the post. I will certainly comeback.

  14. Wow! This can be one particular of the most useful blogs We’ve ever arrive across on this subject. Actually Fantastic. I’m also an expert in this topic therefore I can understand your effort.

  15. A fascinating discussion is definitely worth comment. I think that you ought to write more on this subject, it might not be a taboo matter but typically people don’t talk about these topics. To the next! Kind regards!!

  16. Thanks for your publish. I have always observed that a majority of people are desperate to lose weight as they wish to look slim and attractive. However, they do not continually realize that there are more benefits for you to losing weight also. Doctors claim that overweight people suffer from a variety of disorders that can be instantly attributed to the excess weight. The good news is that people that are overweight as well as suffering from a variety of diseases can help to eliminate the severity of their own illnesses by means of losing weight. It is easy to see a steady but marked improvement in health while even a bit of a amount of weight reduction is attained.

  17. I have observed that in the world of today, video games are definitely the latest phenomenon with children of all ages. There are times when it may be difficult to drag young kids away from the video games. If you want the very best of both worlds, there are several educational video games for kids. Good post.

  18. I like the helpful info you provide in your articles. I’ll bookmark your blog and check again here regularly. I am quite certain I will learn many new stuff right here! Good luck for the next!

  19. 441816 296194Jeden Tag stellt man sich die Frage Was Koche Ich Heute?! Zerbrechen Sie sich nicht den Kopf, besuchen Sie uns am besten direkt auf unserer Webseite uns lassen Sie sich inspirieren 949153

  20. Howdy! I could have sworn I’ve been to this website before but after reading through some of the post I realized it’s new to me. Anyhow, I’m definitely happy I found it and I’ll be book-marking and checking back frequently!

  21. Hey! Do you know if they make any plugins to help with SEO? I’m trying to get my blog to rank for some targeted keywords but I’m not seeing very good gains. If you know of any please share. Many thanks!

  22. Hi there are using WordPress for your site platform? I’m new to the blog world but I’m trying to get started and create my own. Do you need any coding expertise to make your own blog? Any help would be greatly appreciated!

  23. Hello, i think that i saw you visited my blog thus i came to “return the favor”.I am trying to find things to enhance my web site!I suppose its ok to use some of your ideas!!

  24. Do you have a spam problem on this website; I also am a blogger, and I was curious about your situation; many of us have created some nice practices and we are looking to trade strategies with other folks, please shoot me an e-mail if interested.

  25. I do believe that a home foreclosure can have a major effect on the client’s life. Foreclosures can have a 6 to several years negative influence on a debtor’s credit report. A borrower that has applied for a home loan or almost any loans for instance, knows that the particular worse credit rating is usually, the more challenging it is for any decent mortgage. In addition, it may affect any borrower’s capability to find a respectable place to lease or rent, if that results in being the alternative homes solution. Interesting blog post.

  26. Hello There. I found your blog using msn. This is a very well written article. I’ll make sure to bookmark it and come back to read more of your useful info. Thanks for the post. I will certainly comeback.

  27. What’s Happening i’m new to this, I stumbled upon this I’ve found It positively helpful and it has aided me out loads. I hope to give a contribution & help other users like its aided me. Good job.

  28. I have seen that car insurance providers know the vehicles which are at risk from accidents and also other risks. They also know what type of cars are inclined to higher risk along with the higher risk they have got the higher the actual premium fee. Understanding the easy basics regarding car insurance just might help you choose the right kind of insurance policy that could take care of your family needs in case you become involved in any accident. Many thanks sharing a ideas with your blog.

  29. Hey very cool blog!! Man .. Excellent .. Amazing .. I’ll bookmark your blog and take the feeds also…I’m happy to find numerous useful info here in the post, we need work out more techniques in this regard, thanks for sharing. . . . . .

  30. You designed some well known situations really are. I regarded on the internet for the issue and located a lot of people will go as well as with your website.

  31. 457907 709381Having read this I thought it was extremely informative. I appreciate you taking the time and effort to put this write-up together. I once once more discover myself spending strategy to significantly time both reading and commenting. But so what, it was still worth it! 358300


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.