I ‘think exactly like a man’.
I’ve been told, with no small measure of patronising surprise, that I’m ‘a good businesswoman’ and a ‘brutal negotiator’. I’ve even been told that, in my working life, I ‘think exactly like a man’.
Yes, I am aware of the incredible sexism of these statements (some of which have come from women). But what concerns me isn’t other people’s misplaced awe – it’s how to share my self-esteem with my little daughter.
You see, my mother raised me – as so many Jewish mothers do – to believe that I am nothing short of brilliant.
Talented. Clever. Beautiful. Capable. Worthy of world leadership, huge success and Prince William. (Yes. Really. Mom was devastated when Kate got him.)
You can imagine, then, the extent of my self-confidence.
Granted, it did dip in my tweens and teens, in line with puberty and adolescent ups and downs, but it came back from varsity onwards and hasn’t deserted me yet.
This has helped me immeasurably in business and in life. And I badly want to entrench similar confidence in my daughter.
Women and professional success
Unfortunately, recent research about women and business isn’t pretty. We’re comparatively worse than men at negotiations and navigating the challenges of the workplace. We’re less able to ask for what we’re worth and therefore less likely to succeed professionally.
So what do we do, as moms (and dads)?
- Reinforce her worth
It’s important not to criticise girls about their lack of self-confidence, but to encourage them to advocate for themselves. How? Demonstrate, practise and reinforce strategies for dealing with life’s pit bulls, bullies, expert know-it-alls, conflict-avoiders and snipers. A practical example is: Encourage your daughter to order for herself in a restaurant*, to learn that although the server is there to serve her, she needs to be polite and say ‘please’ and ‘thank you’.
- Discuss the challenges
Be honest with girls and young women, in an age-appropriate way, about the challenges they’ll face and how they can tackle these. This way, they won’t be shocked the first time they encounter bias; they’ll be equipped with effective ways to handle it. In practice, work against stereotypes by involving daughters (and sons) in activities that are traditionally seen as gender-specific, and try to draw attention to, and discuss, bias in books and movies.
- Encourage assertiveness
Girls are often taught that being ‘good’ means being polite and using a passive communication style. As parents we need to be aware of when we’re being critical, especially when it relates to girls stepping out of a prescribed gender stereotypes box. For instance, say, “Stop that please! Pinching hurts!” rather than “Stop being a brat!” Labels discourage assertiveness.
- Discourage peer worship
Some girls refrain from asserting their true selves because they want to copy a special friend. For example, if we’re eating out* and my little one’s best friend orders ribs, my daughter will ask for ribs too, even though she doesn’t usually like them. The experts suggest that I tell her it’s okay for her to decide for herself; that her bestie won’t like her any less if she goes her own way.
- Encourage negotiation
In practice, cultivate the idea that when a little girl asks for something, she has to have a reason. Whyshould she get a new toy, a later bedtime, another DVD, a special treat? What do these things contribute to her wellbeing, the family or the social circle? This is similar in a business context. When she asks for a salary increase, she’ll need to identify what she contributes to the business.
- Encourage opinions
Once your child is old enough to join a conversation, encourage her to speak her mind, even if you happen to disagree with her. If she is criticised or ‘corrected’ every time she has an opinion that differs from yours, she’ll stop asserting herself. In the real world, the dinner table* is a good place for this. Ask what her favorite animal is and why. Show her that there isn’t necessarily one right answer in life. And teach her that she can arrive at her own right answer.
* I’m aware that three of my six real-world examples feature food ;), which should give you a sense of how my mind works.
*This post originally appeared on zaparents.com.