From Lean In to inspirational messages, the answer to much of inequality seems to be the responsibility of the person on the losing end of the equation. Fair enough, you might say, that person stands to gain the most. Let me offer up another angle.
I was born a confident person. I'm not sure how or why, but from a young age, I didn't have much humility. My parents, concerned about the reaction to the amount of space I enjoyed taking up, urged me to balance my confidence with some humble pie. Admittedly, I needed that lesson. I saw gatherings of people - no matter what the occasion - as my opportunity to direct attention to my latest talent or idea. What I thought was cute at the time most likely came across as obnoxious after a while. And though some may still accuse me of being an attention hog, I am aware of my boundaries and try my best to leave room for others.
As obnoxious as it can be, confidence has gotten me far in life. My privilege, above everything else (I have other privileges, of course), is confidence.
I should also note that confidence is NOT the same as arrogance. Confidence doesn't compete or dismiss others. Confidence is open to push-back and other ideas (in fact, confident people love it). Confidence has room for empathy. Confidence doesn't know everything. True confidence IS humble.
Confidence gives you an edge over others in most situations. You get the job. You win the contract. People are drawn to you. They want to join your cause, invite you out, promote you, help you and trust you. But the tricky thing about confidence is that, when you need it the most, it fails.
I was born confident, yes, but that doesn't mean I'm unflappable. After my startup ran out of money, I lost my confidence. I know it was obvious. I must have oozed insecurity because people treated me different. I was passed up for contracts and jobs, people stopped reaching out to me, they gave me pep talks instead of wanting to really help me, introductions stopped...nobody had faith in me. It was like a spiral. As I lost faith in myself, others lost faith in me, which led to me losing even more faith in myself.
Until one person who I barely knew said, "I have confidence in you." And that was the beginning of my restoration.
I know that the self-help movement means well. The gurus that are trying to teach motivation and confidence to their readers understand that motivation and confidence are key drivers to success. But what is missing is that success is ALSO a key driver to motivation and confidence. There have actually been studies that show that the more successful a person is, the more confident they become. It's a bit of a vicious circle.
And yes, there are people who can 'fake it till they make it' but I think they have help along the way (and, like me, are born with a certain level of confidence).
So, if messages of affirmation and kicking yourself in the butt aren't the whole answer, what is?
Having someone take a leap of faith when your confidence is shaken goes a long way. Some people are going to need more time and patience than others - especially if they haven't tested their skills before. When you see a spark hidden behind a heap of self-doubt or bad experiences, encourage it to ignite.
Don't say, "Believe in yourself," say "I believe in you."
Don't say, "Lean in," say, "I will help you with that presentation" (after putting her in charge of the pitch).
Don't say, "Your success is up to you," say "I think you have what it takes to be successful" and then offer your guidance.
The whole sink or swim mentality isn't just giving naturally confident and privileged types an unfair advantage, it's also passing over some incredible talent. I'm convinced that the more people with privilege that put confidence in those who lack their own, the better our world will be. Arrogance is a zero-sum game, but confidence is not.