Why Is It Hard Sometimes for Women To Receive Compliments?

Gender stereotypes tend to be so strongly embraced in our culture that they often lead women to feel insecure and question their abilities.

The Woman Post | Catalina Mejía Pizano

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The research performed by Katherine Coffman confirms that besides false beliefs and prejudices, gender stereotypes also stand in the way when it comes to women’s confidence in themselves and what they can achieve. 

If we focus on the economic field, we all know that in many countries women represent more than half of the labor force, and they also hold approximately 60% of the postgraduate degrees. However, strange as it may be, they still earn less than men and they work in lower positions than them (especially in the financial, technology, and science sectors). The study by Coffman sheds some light when trying to understand the reasons why this happens. Women lack confidence in their capacity to compete in a sector that has been traditionally occupied by men since there is a false stereotype that men are better in science, engineering, mathematics and, technology.

The results of the mentioned study also suggest that an elevated percentage of women find it hard to express their creative ideas in group discussions about STEM. Even when women have great knowledge in a specific field or subject, they tend to ignore compliments and try not to stand out. This attitude cannot be considered as false modesty, it is simply a behavior that is adopted not to break traditional standards that indicate that women should hide vanity. It may be also cataloged as simple modesty, impostor syndrome, or as a strategy for survival in an environment that doesn't tolerate women celebrating their accomplishments.


The truth is, whatever drives women to ignore compliments, may act as an obstacle for their careers since it often makes them leave their dreams behind or stops them from applying to the positions they wish to pursue. The beliefs that women have about themselves can often shape the decisions they make, such as what to study, or what professional path to follow. If the women who are interested in STEM careers, lack self-confidence, it is likely that will abandon this career option as a first choice.

One of the conclusions of the study by Coffman was that gender stereotypes tend to distort the way we see ourselves as well as the way we see others. But why is this especially harmful to women? It can lead them to hold an image of themselves that can potentially lead them to abandon their professional careers in science. In the results section, the researchers mentioned that women are less confident in those areas that have been traditionally dominated by men. They arrived at this finding by asking participants to respond to trivial multiple-choice questions in which women were expected to have more knowledge, such as cooking, Disney movies, art, decoration, and literature. In a second round, they were asked to answers questions in which men were expected to do better, such as mathematics, cars, video games, sports, and business.

After the second round of questions, both men and women were asked how they performed and how they believed that the other gender had performed. Not surprisingly, both men and women believed that the gender performance gap was wider than it was, exaggerating the advantage that men had over women in the second round. 

The general results of the study are beneficial when it comes to estimating the negative consequences of gender stereotypes on the self-esteem of women. It is also interesting to find the answers to questions such as why do men and women continue to believe that men will perform better in some areas?