While no one has escaped the Covid-19 pandemic unscathed, research suggests that women have borne the brunt of the devastation, particularly economically. When it comes to working, women have faced greater job insecurity and increasing workloads whilst also being shouldered with the additional burden of increasing childcare and household responsibilities . The disproportionate levels of workplace and household responsibilities between the genders have been key contributors to slowing down OECD efforts to achieve gender parity within the workplace, according to PwC .
Another less frequently discussed factor contributing to widening gender inequality within the workplace since the start of the pandemic is the ‘Confidence Gap’. If you haven’t heard this term before, the ‘Confidence Gap’ is a term initially coined by Dr Russ Harris. It describes the lack of confidence that many women suffer with which leads them to underestimate their abilities. A study looking at the relationship between self-perception and performance found that when asked how they thought they would perform on a series of tasks, women consistently underestimated both their ability and performance, whereas men overestimated both. However, both genders ended up performing similarly demonstrating women’s tendency to have less confidence in their abilities .
This lack of confidence and inaccurate self-perception leads women to put themselves forward for fewer opportunities than men, with widely quoted findings from HP personnel records showing that women working at the company put themselves forward for promotions only when they met 100% of the requirements, while men applied even when they only met 60% . Additionally, women also have a reduced tendency to ask for things and negotiate  and speak up less in meetings compared to their male colleagues .
So why exactly is the virtual workplace widening the ‘Confidence Gap’?
Well, the tendency of women to speak up less in meetings to avoid taking up too much space is amplified within virtual settings. When conducting a meeting over a video call instead of in-person, the same visual cues are not available, so it can be harder to know when to speak and to communicate non-verbally that you have a question or concern to raise. As well as this, women are also less likely to interrupt or ‘jump in’ than men . Based on both these factors, it is no wonder that in a recent survey, 45% of female business leaders reported that it is difficult for women to speak up in virtual meetings .
If female employees are less vocal in virtual meetings compared to their male colleagues, they may seem less engaged, hurting their career progression and worsening workplace gender equality in the long term. In fact, many women already feel that the pandemic has impacted their chance of promotion .
The virtual workplace has been particularly detrimental to younger women at the start of their careers. The evidence suggests that the ‘Confidence Gap’ is more pronounced amongst younger women anyway  and graduating in the midst of a global pandemic and into a fractured job market has no doubt widened this gap. Despite many not having the same caregiving responsibilities and household pressures, younger women have had to navigate what for many will be their first ‘proper’ job virtually without the same level of support or learning opportunities they would benefit from within an office environment.
What can managers do to bridge the ‘Confidence Gap’ within hybrid working environments?
We recently discussed the ‘Confidence Gap’ and its effect on women in the workplace on our podcast LEAP Listens, where we had the pleasure of sitting down with Caroline Gundu. She is a Senior Consultant and former chair of the ‘Successful Women’s Network’ at IT Consultancy CGI. Listen to the bitesize podcast with Caroline.
Five Top Tips to help your team grow in confidence:
- Be proactive. Reach out for one-to-one conversations. Find out how they’re getting on and if they need an extra support within their role.
- Take a human approach. Take an interest in the individual beyond work.
- Pay attention. Assess who is speaking the most in virtual meetings and open up the conversation to those that may speak up less to ensure that no one feels overlooked.
- Be encouraging. Encourage them to put themselves forward for opportunities if they have the capacity to take extra responsibility on at that time.
- Point them in the right direction. Direct them to mentoring opportunities and self-development courses that you believe could be beneficial to that individual.
We discussed the role managers play in building confidence and Caroline agreed that managers have a responsibility to build confidence and cultivate talent. She recommended that while hybrid working remains in place, managers should reach out to female employees on a one-to-one basis. She also stressed the importance of ensuring people feel they are “getting the opportunity to participate (and) people are not being overlooked or ignored” in virtual meetings. To ensure this is the case, she suggested assessing who is speaking the most and then opening the conversation up and inviting others to contribute.
However, despite agreeing that managers have a role to play in building confidence, she acknowledged how challenging this can be within the virtual workplace. She also recognised individuals’ personal responsibility for developing their confidence via seeking mentoring or self-development courses.
During the discussion, it was also acknowledged that whereas men are not immune from lacking confidence, they do not let this hold them back in the same way that women do:
“Of course men aren’t exempt from feelings of self-doubt but there are studies that indicate that they don’t tend to let those feelings affect their day to day lives to the extent that women do.” – Sara Macgregor, Managing Director
Overall, with many companies embracing the hybrid working model rather than a full return to the office, managers must recognise this ‘Confidence Gap’ and take practical steps to create an equal work environment where their female employees feel empowered to speak up. This will positively impact employees’ personal development and allow companies to retain talent while positively influencing their employer brand.
How are you empowering your female employees in the age of hybrid working? LEAP Create™ can provide insight into how supported your employees feel through workforce research and subsequently create a comms solution that supports employees and develops their confidence. Get in touch today to find out more about how we can help. Get in touch today to find out more about how we can help.
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 &  Kay, K. and Shipman, C., 2014. The Confidence Gap. The Atlantic. [online] Available at: <https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2014/05/the-confidence-gap/359815/> [Accessed 3 February 2022].
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 Connley, C., 2020. 45% of women business leaders say it’s difficult for women to speak up in virtual meetings. [online] CNBC Make It. Available at: <https://www.cnbc.com/2020/09/03/45percent-of-women-business-leaders-say-its-difficult-for-women-to-speak-up-in-virtual-meetings.html> [Accessed 3 February 2022].
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