One of my students will be moving to Italy this Summer. Helen (not her real name) is a lovely lady who recently retired; a long-divorced single mom who raised her child alone and a woman who has found love on match.com. Her beau is also retired, and of Italian origin, and they are both looking for a place where their money will go further than here in Los Angeles.
Their final destination is Crotone, a small city five hours south of Naples, where he has family. Not exactly an expat haven – I have no doubts Helen will be known as the “Americana” – but, on the plus side, her Italian will improve by leap and bounds in a matter of months. What she will make of Crotone, I am curious to find out as the story unfolds.
“The things we do for love!” she muttered today as we said goodbye at the end of the semester. Indeed. But it also made me think of the choices we have, as women in the Western world, way in our golden years, choices that were not afforded to us merely a generation or two ago, without raising eyebrows or more courage than seemed possible.
To a large extent, women still change the course of their lives because of a love interest, more than the other way around. The time hasn’t quite come yet when building a family or, at least, sharing our life with someone else is not a priority. Or, for some, THE priority. Maybe that time will never come, as we are not animals who live in isolation and, if the trend is slowly reversing, men are still, by and large, the bread winners and often their careers dictate where a family or a couple live.
Much has been made of recent of the slogan “equal pay for equal work”, with President Obama operating to ensure that women are legally compensated as much as men for similar work – even in the USA, women tend to earn 70% of what men in equal positions make. Factors like child rearing, and less flexibility, combined with women’s choices of professions that tend to earn less, do contribute to women being held back on the career track but, considering women’s higher share of degree completion, none of this explains why the percentage of women in the boardrooms is still infinitesimal.
Katty Kay and Claire Shipman, in a long article in The Atlantic (to be followed by a book on the subject), detail the results of a study they have been conducting for years, and the bottom line is that women have less confidence than men.
Would it come as a surprise to many of you, female readers, to know that many women in high positions admit to having had thoughts of not deserving them? Or how many of us have witnessed men advancing without the proper credentials?
It’s not that the system is entirely stacked against us. It turns out that many of us suffer from the perfection syndrome: we don’t raise our hands to answer a question unless we are sure we have the right answer. We wouldn’t dream of asking for a promotion if we didn’t feel we were qualified down to the last requirement. Men don’t suffer from such compunctions: they will raise their hand and venture an answer, regardless of whether they think they are 100% sure; they will ask for a raise or a promotion despite not having all the requisites. And guess what? Projecting confidence does work, right or wrong as it may be.
It seems we are not as comfortable in the bullshit department. Out of curiosity, I took the confidence test at the end of the article and it appears I am more confident than the average woman. The truth is that this confidence has been hard-won, after years of feeling undeserving and proving to myself otherwise. I don’t think I ever met a man in a position of power who ever held me back – it was often my own doing. Fifty years in, and many internal and external battles won or fought, I finally feel different. If not the perfect answer, I will voice my best guess. I will certainly not restrain myself from offering my opinion.
It will take years of educating girls differently before we see a change in how women approach confidence. In the meantime, Katty Kay and Claire Shipman do offer a valid suggestion: rather than encouraging women to fake what they don’t feel, it might be more productive to encourage our friends and daughters to take that promotion, to ask for a raise, to nudge them in a direction where they might feel unsure or undeserving. Perfection in a highly imperfect world is redundant – being good enough yields better results.
Images found in the public domain