If you were on Facebook at all last week, chances are you saw The Atlantic article called "The Confidence Gap" that has taken the Internet by storm. The article, like the book The Confidence Code, both written by journalists Katty Kay and Claire Shipman, explores why women seem to lack the self-confidence that men have and how that can negatively impact women's career paths.
In general, I don't like this idea. I have been around confident, amazing women my whole life -- from school, to work, to the mothers of my children's friends, there are confident women all around me. And I, myself, have had a successful career, one that I don't believe has been held back by the fact that I am a woman. With that said, when I think deeply about it, I do see examples fairly frequently that can fall under the theme of the confidence gap.
In fact, I found myself thinking about this topic last week at home. One of my daughters is about to start high school, and she received an email from her new school asking her to rate herself in several academic areas as part of ascertaining her placement level when she starts 9th grade. She could choose between "very good, good, average and area of difficulty." Now, I know that every parent probably says this, but my daughter is quite a strong student. She gets straight A's in school, yet when she did her own self ratings, she didn't once rate herself as "very good." I found myself wondering, Would boys rate themselves higher in similar situations? Is it possible her teachers would rate her higher than she rated herself?
In my daughter's case, I think it is less about an actual lack of confidence in her own abilities and more about her reluctance to rate herself highly lest she appear arrogant. Either way, it's possible her lower self-ratings could have an impact on her academic path.
I've also seen this reluctance of women to promote their own capabilities play out at work, even at Change.org, despite the fact that, in my opinion, we're one of the world's most empowering places to work. We have examples of confident and successful women at all levels of our company, including on our leadership and executive teams.
Yet when we launched our women's mentorship program last year (WHOA -- Women Helping Others Achieve), 90 percent of women said they wanted to be a mentee and only six percent volunteered to be a mentor. Six percent! We were so surprised by the findings, we decided to change the entire structure of our mentorship program. Now, every member of WHOA belongs to a co-mentor partnership because we firmly believe every woman, regardless of whether she feels comfortable admitting it, has valuable experience to offer others.
We've even seen the confidence gap play out on Change.org itself. Our research shows that women are less likely than men to start petitions on our platform, yet once they do start petitions, they win slightly more often than men do. When we did a survey of winning petition starters last year, the women in our sample more frequently left comments remembering their initial expectation of failure and, of course, their surprise and excitement when they won.
Luckily for all of us, there is hope! When we look at how girls and young women use the Change.org platform, the confidence gap essentially disappears. We see teenage girls around the world starting and winning major campaigns like these:
13-year-old Abby Goldberg of Grayslake, Ill. went up against oil lobbyists and got her governor to veto a bill that would have prevented communities in Illinois from banning plastic bags.
15-year-old Sarah Kavanagh, from Hattiesburg, Miss., persuaded Gatorade to remove a potentially dangerous chemical from its drinks.
Three teen girls, Emma Axelrod, Elena Tsemberis and Sammi Siegel, from Montclair, N.J., convinced the Commission on Presidential Debates to have the first female presidential debate moderator in 20 years. (I had the joy of co-presenting alongside Emma at the Social Good Summit last year, and she was also an incredible speaker -- she got one of the few standing ovations at the event.)
And 17-year-old Fahma Mohamed of the UK got Education Secretary Michael Gove to acknowledge female genital mutilation (FGM) as a form of child abuse and to agree to inform all UK teachers about the risks of the procedure and their duty to protect school girls. Her campaign was supported by The Guardian and endorsed by Malala Yousafzai, another inspirational young woman and by UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon.
I could go on and on, but the point is: Teenage girls are tackling major issues with an unmatched drive and passion -- and they're winning.
Even when I look back at my daughter's example, while she may be hesitant to rate herself highly, it doesn't stop her from actually doing the things that require confidence -- like serving as co-president of her student council, leading her school's community service club, rock climbing, performing ballet in front of large audiences and other activities that will prepare her to tackle challenges later in life.
After all, as we see from our data, when women do have the confidence to tackle challenges, they're often more successful. Although women start petitions at lower rates than men, they win more often than men do. Our data suggests that women often have more robust social networks that can be activated around a campaign, and they're often better at telling compelling personal stories that motivate friends and strangers alike to take action.
We can all make a difference by taking action ourselves (despite how confident we are or aren't in the result) and encouraging others around us to do so. One thing I really like about Shipman and Kay's work is their suggestion to people to encourage those around them. From their advice after people take the confidence quiz on their website, they say, "Rather than repeatedly telling your friend she's great, try encouraging her to take action instead. Often, it takes just one suggestion, one comment from a friend or co-worker: "You should consider that city council seat." "I'm sure you could handle the supervisory job. You should go for it."
We can help each other most by giving each other permission to act. One little nudge might be all we need. And perhaps, these inspirational teenage girls can be the nudge for all of us.
This post originally appeared on LinkedIn Influencers.