Science Says This Makes Women More Confident Than Men
A recent study published by Harvard Business Review titled “How Age and Gender Affect Self-Improvement” reveals how age, gender, and the orientation of our mind-set greatly affects our confidence. The study examined about 7000 people and how they viewed their personal development. Some recognized that they responded negatively to criticism and tended to avoid new tasks at which they thought they couldn’t succeed. These are the people with a “fixed” mind-set or “proving mind-set,” meaning they have something to prove. Others gravitate toward challenging tasks and are open to feedback. These people have a “growth mind-set” or “improving mind-set,” meaning they are willing to admit it when improvement is needed. The study also shows that three factors impact your confidence and outlook for self-improvement most accurately. Scroll through to find out what they are, and why women only improve with age.
Age has a strong impact on the evolution of our minds from a proving mind-set to that of an improving mind-set. Scientists postulate that as we age, we become more self-aware, which in turn makes us more open to improving. While men have a steadily improving mind-set between the ages of 25 and 50, women greatly increase their openness to criticism as they get older. Around the ages of 55–65, men and women have about the same openness to self-improvement and it escalates at about the same rate. However, after 60, women are slightly more confident and open to improvement.
So do as style maven Iris Apfel does and embrace your age. Now 93 years old, Apfel quotes Coco Chanel: “Coco once said that what makes a woman look old is trying desperately to look young. It’s nice that you get to be so old. It’s a blessing.” And according to science, it's a blessing that comes with confidence.
The study found that women are more likely to have a "proving" mind-set than men, meaning that men are less amenable to criticism because they feel more like they have something to prove. The study's authors argue that this can be explained by the fact that women are socialized to be less confident, and thereby have more to prove, whereas men are socialized to be more confident, and thus don’t believe they have as much to prove. Both the male and female participants in the story were shown to shift toward an improving mind-set as they got older, however, the change for women was more extreme.
Do you agree with these findings? Anna Wintour has denied enduring gender bias, but she has also prefaced her statements by saying that Silicon Valley is undoubtedly a different from the fashion world. Other women like Facebook's Sheryl Sandberg have argued that women are sometimes their own obstacle.
In her book, Lean In, Sandberg argues that internal obstacles are what hold women back. “We lower our own expectations of what we can achieve,” Sandberg writes. In her argument, Sandberg references the Howard/Heidi case study in which two professors wrote up a case study of a real-life entrepreneur named Heidi Roizen. In one class, the entrepreneur was given then name Howard, while in the other class, her name remained Heidi. While students found both Howard and Heidi to be equally successful, they found Howard to be far more likable and Heidi to be selfish and “the type of person you would not want to work for.” This perfectly illustrates how gender causes professional achievements to be seen differently in men and women.
According to the researchers, “there is a fascinating and slightly complex relationship between self-confidence and an improving mind-set.” Given that the two are correlated, it makes sense that women start with less of confidence and a lesser sense of self-improvement in their 20s, but ultimately age to surpass men in both confidence and their commitment to self-improvement. What’s most interesting about these findings is that women have a gradual but then exponential increase in confidence, while men experience a noticeable confidence dip in their 40s, a rise in their 50s, and then another strong dip in their 60s.
The study found that those who are most resistant to feedback might lack confidence. These subjects project a highly confident persona to compensate for their lack of experience or insecurity about their age. Unfortunately, women often have less confidence than their male peers at the beginning of their careers. As the authors of an article titled “The Confidence Gap” argue in The Atlantic, in terms of success, confidence matters just as much (if not more so) than competence. Founder and venture capitalist Angela Lee argues that it's essential to be both humble and accepting of feedback, but to also to know when to lead.
If you want to boost your confidence and increase your rate of self-improvement, make sure to embrace feedback from your colleagues. Start with small doses, and once you become more comfortable about hearing about your weak areas of performance, ask for more feedback. You will quickly learn that failure and negative feedback are your greatest sources of knowledge and they will only speed up your path to success.
If you are in a managing position and want to encourage self-improvement in your team members, be careful with your feedback. For example, instead of saying "Your report is excellent," say something like, "Thank you for working so hard on this report; your effort really paid off." According to the HBR study, this is a more effective way of making it easier for your employees to accept critical feedback.
“I always talk about confidence, but that doesn’t mean that I don’t have moments of doubt and insecurity. Of course I do. But I learned that it’s about how you respond to that, how you bounce back and find clarity and a find a way to be true to yourself. Your failures are your best lessons,” Diane von Furstenberg tells Forbes.
Give your confidence a boost with some of our favorite titles below.
Do you feel like your age and gender impact your path to self-improvement? What about your confidence? Share with us in the comments.