How South Asian Culture Impacts Confidence in Women

How South Asian Culture Impacts Confidence in Women

by Priya Mohal

Navigating the delicate balance between expressing oneself and maintaining respect can be a challenge for South Asian women. 

Growing up, I often felt disheartened when urged to be more assertive and confident in myself. Much of this reluctance stemmed from cultural norms ingrained in many South Asian women, encouraging obedience and adherence to societal expectations. 

Here are a few ways I’ve seen that culture impact confidence and what to do about it. 

Firstly, South Asian culture has deep inequality, girls are treated differently from boys from the moment they are born, as shown through the different customs and traditions. When we notice the difference in treatment and expectations, we can hold ourselves back, believing that perhaps we are not good enough. 

We can learn to value ourselves, our experiences and our opinions to change this mindset.  Give yourself credit for the things you have done and celebrate your achievements.  As a career coach, I’ve often asked my clients to create a list of achievements they are proud of and to keep it on their phones to refer back to when they feel lower in confidence.  

Secondly, we may have seen self-sacrificing mothers and female family members and as a result, can feel guilty when we perhaps don’t or can’t do the same.  There are also certain expectations within communities of what a woman’s role’ should’ be. 

For women now that are pursuing careers, when we progress at work, we can face Imposter Syndrome, believing perhaps that we don’t belong there. To help with this, shift your focus, instead of looking at yourself, think about the people you are supporting in your role and the benefits you are bringing by being there. In addition, take a look at the big picture, what do you want to achieve for yourself and your family?  When we start looking at our goals for the future, we can build up a picture of who we want to be and how we can get there and that can give us a big motivation boost and ease the guilt.  

Finally, another aspect of South Asian culture is that we are taught to respect elders (they always knew better) and to listen and not talk back, which means not being able to openly discuss ideas in a healthy debate, as a result, we learn to be quiet.  

However, in professional settings, this can result in: 

  • Speaking up less in meetings or when in large groups. 
  • Not going for promotions or negotiating your pay. 
  • We may not voice a difference of opinion especially if we are younger than others in the room.

The perception is that South Asian women are the doers of work but are not recognised or valued as much as our white counterparts because we tend to go unnoticed.  

If you recognise some of the above points in your work, start by thinking about how you want to be instead. It may help to give yourself a small action each day that pushes you out of your comfort zone.  Perhaps, you could volunteer to lead a meeting/event or give yourself a point to raise in a meeting.  As each individual experience is different we often need different solutions, however, the first step is always to raise awareness of how we act and what we can do to change it. 

With some support and time to work on key skills, you will feel more confident in showing up, taking space, and making it harder to be overlooked!  

You can find out more about Priya and connect with her here.





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