In my university all of the societies have a male student as chairman. The chairman and the secretary are always men. We can only become vice-chairman or treasurer. We accept this. But also many of us just don’t believe we could be chairwoman. I see how clever my friends are, that they are just as capable if not more so than the male students. The men think it is their right and destiny to be chairman, but we feel that we aren’t good enough. And then we have leaders who just want to be powerful and aren’t competent.Nneka, Nigeria
There are many challenges that women and girls face in having our skills and talents recognised, being treated equally both by the law and in reality, and being appreciated for everything we do and contribute.
Many of these things seem out of our control, even as we work to address them in small ways. However, one is not: recognising our own skills.
Often women and girls focus on what we can’t do. We do something, and only see where we could have done it better. We see that someone else did something better than us. This is good: hopefully it helps us to see what more we need to learn and do it better the next time.
Focus on success, not failure
We exclude ourselves when we only focus on what we can’t do.
- We don’t apply for jobs unless we have every qualification they are looking for
- We don’t apply for promotions at work because we don’t believe we have the skills they are looking for.
- We don’t stand to be chair of a committee, even though no one knows our community better than we do.
Women can build up women
Sometimes the best way of overcoming this is to look at our friends, classmates and colleagues and tell them what skills they are learning or are good at. Affirm them. We may be very good at criticising ourselves (and others), but because we are so good at comparing ourselves to others, we can use this trait to identify their skills and accomplishments.
Sarah is a university student volunteering in your project over her summer break. Always near the top of her Undergraduate Pharmacy class, she is the eldest child, and only daughter, in her family. However well she does, her parents still favour her brothers. However well she does, she is overlooked. Despite her academic achievements she has low confidence and feels that her position in her class is only through luck.
In many ways, Sarah will represent most of the talented young women you work with. So often young women are aware only of their deficits. They get 95% in an exam and fixate on how they lost 5%. Their friend is successful, and it makes them feel like they have failed. And yet if we can encourage young women to remind each other of their talents instead of feeling jealous, we could help them all to have a more accurate idea of their strengths!
You might also be interested in
- Toolkit 4
- What’s Really Holding Women Back? | Harvard Business Review (hbr.org)
- Women and youth in productive activities | United Nations Industrial Development Organisation (unido.org)