Confidence, convergence and caretakers
An interesting recent post from Jessica Valenti on ‘why the female confidence gap is a sham’ has made me rethink PP Factor 3. PP Factor 3 refers to women’s greater reluctance to put themselves forward for jobs, or for promotions, as one of the explanations for flatter careers and lower pay. I’ve been in the habit of labelling this as ‘lack of self-confidence’ but it needs a broader and more nuanced description.
Valenti’s piece is a guffaw at a new book The Confidence Code, which argues that American women need more confidence. “It’s true,” she says, “that there’s a gendered disparity in confidence..but the ‘confidence gap’ is not a personal defect so much as a reflection of a culture that gives women no reason to feel self-assured.” That makes some sense to me, but it prompts a rather different line of thought, about what counts as confidence, and how we judge it. Is it about overtly unselfdoubting behaviour; a capacity to ignore other people’s views; an individualistic determination to win one’s own case or game? These are not always laudable attributes, but characterise quite a lot of what is seen as confident behaviour. We all know that although it’s not always easy to draw the line, there are negative as well as positive forms of self-confidence.
So the question is, what kind(s) of self-confidence do we want to encourage, in women and men? This brings us back to the convergence issue: is the underlying trend to enable/encourage more women to behave more like men? Or do we look for a reverse trend, where some characteristically male behaviour is rewarded less and characteristically female behaviour gains more recognition? I’ve discussed this more than once in relation to working time patterns – arguing that more men should be able to choose to work part-time – but the Valenti piece makes me realise that it extends to this confidence factor also, and probably further.
There’s a further recent angle on the convergence issue. A recent court judgment has awarded 23 male workers at the University of Wales £500K after they sued on grounds of sex discrimination. The men, who worked as caretakers and tradesmen, discovered when they were absorbed onto the same pay scale as secretaries that they were being paid a lower hourly rate. One female commentator expressed her instinctive unease at the law being used this way round – though she also expressed unease at her unease. I think I understand that (the first unease, that is), but I guess it’s geese and ganders.
The big issue is to look critically at what counts as normal at work, and go for a set of norms which are both broader and better balanced. In a previous post I’ve already expressed my views on the norm of always seeking to extract the maximum money you can from an employer. Thinking about what should count as healthy self-confidence is in the same category.
Thanks to Sebastian Scotney for drawing my attention to the original post ; jazz-lovers amongst you should like Seb’s excellent site.