And you thought only the Indian girl child loses out in competition with her brothers? Here’s what American author Rachel Simmons says about building women’s self-esteem.

Rachel Simmons is an interesting speaker who presents her talk with the all-too-familiar case of a young 13-year-old girl recounting how her friends traumatised her by not inviting her to parties, not letting her into their many activities and so ostracising her, so to say. The teenager tells us how she learnt to develop the power to walk past them and eventually make friends of her own, more sincere and genuine. The question is how did she do that, and Rachel Simmons, who teaches young girls leadership qualities, answers.

Simmons is author of the book “Odd Girl Out: The Hidden Culture of Aggression in Girls”. She also teaches and coaches young girls.

“If you ask a class of six-year-olds who the best runner amongst them is, all hands will go up. They are truly a fiery lot. If you ask the same question to the fifth-sixth graders, they will point to the best runner. Ask that question to ninth grade girls and the pointed out best runner will be wary of the distinction, because to be seen as the best often earns you punishment of your peers and adults. In adulthood women, will pay a steep financial price for that modesty. People who negotiate their wages and negotiate salary increases make a million dollars more than those who do not over the course of their careers,” says Simmons.

Simmons asserts that contemporary women could not have been born in better times. Countries all over the world are realising the merit in investing in their girls/women.

“Girls are outpacing boys in test scores, high school college enrolment and graduation rates, leadership positions in high school, and yet it all depends on what you are measuring, because for decades now psychologists have measured an alarming loss of self-esteem in girls as they approach adolescence. And this is a loss that cuts through ethnic, racial and socio-economic lines. We think at this moment girls become aware of the necessity to be conventionally feminine, to be liked at all costs, to be pleasing, to be passive, to be modest. So, if their college applications are stamped with their 21st Century girl power, they are. But we also see their psychological resumes lagging several centuries behind. In a 2006 study, 74 per cent of the girls told researchers that they were under a lot of pressure to please everyone. Those girls said they were not supposed to brag about the things they did well,” says Simmons adding that in her own research in these times she still found girls getting conflicting messages about power and pleasing everyone.

“After college the data on girls begins to decline. Women enter professions that pay them less, offer them less prestige. In 2011 we only had 15 per cent women in corporate leadership positions. The reasons, Simmons says, is that they may be less able to negotiate, to articulate for themselves, to manage conflict. “There are still many barriers, institutional barriers, sexist barriers that exist that prevent women from being successful and we know that aggressive women are not well responded to. But I am convinced a psychological glass ceiling exists as well, and it is the product of a culture that is telling girls, yes…but…If we have to make girls resilient we have to give them the skills to navigate the challenges relationships pose. There is a myth in our society that just because girls have a lot of relationships they must be having an intuitive ability to manage them…that is not true. Girls need help in this area…”

Simmons quotes an incident to show how her mother made her ask for what she wanted. This ability is the key one that comes from adult women to the younger women in their fold, says Simmons, putting thus the onus on older women to build the self-esteem of the younger ones.

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