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The recent passing of Ruth Bader Ginsburg has given us a powerful opportunity to reflect on what holds women back, as well as what allows us to thrive.
The Supreme Court Justice did more in her decades of service, both before and during her time on the United States’ highest court, than many of us could hope to accomplish in our entire lives, but she was clear about how she did it.
“I would like to be remembered as someone who used whatever talent she had to do her work to the very best of her ability,” she once said.
There was no magic, or divine hand to pluck a young Bader Ginsburg from obscurity. There was only all there ever is: opportunities, and a mindset of saying yes to them. Even when they seemed impossible.
But where does that come from? That instinct to do rather than hesitate? That unbridled confidence that no matter the task, you can handle it?
It’s something a lot of women feel is actually discouraged from a young age. In their book The Confidence Code: The Art and Science of Self-Assurance - What Women Should Know, journalists Katty Kay and Claire Shipman explore the body of research that shows while men are overwhelmingly confident about their skills and abilities, women question their own.
As children, girls are socialised to be calm, polite and helpful, and seek out praise for being ‘good’. This unconsciously sends the message that following the rules is what’s expected, and is ultimately what will win girls the respect of the people around them.
In their book, Kay and Shipman argue that in the long run this socialisation makes women less likely to take risks. Being resilient comes from dealing with failure, but girls and women are often deeply afraid to fail.
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You may be familiar with the statistic that in order to apply for a job, women feel they need to meet 100 per cent of the criteria. Men, on the other hand, usually apply after meeting about 60 per cent.
This is backed up by more recent research by LinkedIn. The professional networking site found that compared to male users, women were less likely to apply for positions they had viewed on the website, less likely to apply for positions that were more senior than their current position, but more likely to be hired once they do apply.
When asked why they don’t apply, however, women don’t say it’s because they doubt their own abilities. The reality is more nuanced than that. Instead, it seems women are just more cautious - because we’ve been told to be.
When I asked Mamamia readers how the tendency for caution had held them back, the stories were fascinating. Some women spoke of a book they’d been meaning to write for decades, while others said it was the unshakeable fear of what other people might think of them that plays in their mind whenever they’re on the brink of taking a risk.