The confidence trap

Women returners tend to feel less confident than male ones. Why? And what can we do to make women feel more confident generally?

Coffee, an iPhone and a small blackboard saying 'back to work'


A report from Vodafone last week showed a significant different between male and female returners, particularly in terms of self confidence when coming back to the office. It was one of those surveys where you want to know more. Is it because of the reasons women have taken breaks [generally care-related]; is there a link between the length of the breaks; is it because women returning are worrying more about issues like balancing family and work issues; what was the ratio of men to women in the survey [when it comes to formal returner programmes men are in the minority] and so forth. And, like all these things that focus on confidence issues, is it because of the underlying narrative about women/mothers and the enormous pressure to be all things to all people?

When I started this blog it was to show what the day to day of weaving all the work and children thing together is like. I have been looking back on all the blogs of late because I am putting them into a book for my kids so they can dip into all the memories. My son said he was worried about forgetting daughter one, which, of course, he will never do, but I wanted him to have something that would help him remember some of the details.

And while reading through the blogs [slowly, I want to relive them one by one] has been a rich source of memories, it has also shown me just how much of a whirlwind the whole thing has been. No wonder women lose confidence. They are just trying to get from one day to the next. I’ve never had a career break, but I’ve been on maternity leave a few times and, even if it was only for a few months, moving from one very different world to another is no easy thing. And it’s not like you move from one thing to the thing you were doing before. You move to a new [word of the moment] hybrid thing where you are getting used to doing both your job and looking after your children at the same time. It’s a lot to handle.

Yet when you look back, too, you realise just how capable you have been. Do we look back enough and give ourselves credit for all that we have achieved? The truth is we probably don’t look back that much because we are still stuck in the whirlwind, which is changing with every phase of the family life cycle. And even if we did we would probably focus on the negatives.

It seems odd that those who have, by and large, proved themselves to be extremely capable individuals, feel the least confident. The last year has tested everyone to the max and many will be feeling that they haven’t coped. They will be feeling completely exhausted on every front.

That is where the stories we tell ourselves and the stories others tell about us matter.

The Vodafone report says there are lessons in their report on returners for those coming back from furlough. At we recognised this early on in the pandemic and launched a transition out of lockdown toolkit based on our experience. Who more than working mums know about reintegration into the workforce after long periods of leave?

There will be things from the initiatives that have been put in place to support returners and those coming back from maternity leave that employers can use to make the transition back easier. Sometimes employers thing they need to bring in expensive outside experts to tell them what to do, but maybe the experts are already in their organisation and they just need to open their eyes and see them for what they are.

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