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New research reveals that young women feel substantially less confident speaking about politics and climate compared with young men

15 Aug 2023

Research published today by the National Literacy Trust, in partnership with Estée Lauder Companies UK & Ireland, showed a considerable confidence gap between young men and women (aged 16 – 30) when it comes to communicating opinions on complex and critical topics, such as politics and climate.

The research found that while young adults today were reassuringly confident expressing their opinions (over 4 in 5 (85.4%) felt either very confident or somewhat confident), there were noteworthy gender divides when it came to speaking about specific subjects related to industries where diverse representation and understanding of STEM disciplines are essential.

- Markedly more young men than women felt confident speaking about politics (52.1% vs 36.7%) and climate (65% vs 50.4%).

- Almost half (47.4%) of young women said a fear of saying the wrong thing contributed to a lack of confidence when expressing their opinions compared with only 1 in 4 (27.4%) young men.

- More than twice as many young women (32.9%) as men (14.4%) said that other people being involved in the exchange and/or a fear of being judged was a contributing factor to their low confidence.

The National Literacy Trust’s previous research with Estée Lauder Companies UK & Ireland showed that three quarters of young people (75.4%) agreed that confidence in communication had an impact on their careers, and a similar number felt that it also impacted on their wellbeing, aspirations and relationships.

This lack of confidence communicating on topics such as politics and climate change may impact young women’s career choice and progression within related industries. Both politics and STEM industries, which are closely linked to the environment and climate change, are fields of study that tend to attract more men than women. The reasons behind this are complex and nuanced, but a lack of confidence in communicating about these topics will add to the barriers holding women back from these industries.

Confident verbal and written communication are crucial for success, whether that’s at school, in a career, or in relationships. The National Literacy Trust is dedicated to ensuring all young people to have the vocabulary and confidence to speak about topics that will impact their lives.

“It is crucial that all young people feel confident in making their opinions heard and empowered to engage with discussions and debates as stakeholders in society. In a world where opinions and values can seem highly polarised, young people should feel able and qualified to challenge and respond to ideas, whether in social or familial conversations, at work or through civic engagement. We know that literacy skills are key to building confidence in communication, and our definition of literacy emphasises its role in supporting effective communication. This includes the critical and creative literacy skills needed for the digital age and the importance of literacy in enabling individuals to reach their full potential and participate fully in their community as well as wider society.”

Dr Christina Clark, Director of Research and Evaluation at the National Literacy Trust

“Our founder, Mrs. Estée Lauder, believed women should have access to infinite possibilities, and today our company is committed to advancing possibilities for women, inside our business and around the world. These findings clearly show that supporting communication skills can be a powerful way to help dismantle the barriers that often hold women back - from voicing their views, challenging norms, and ultimately – becoming the confident leaders that our society needs. We’re proud supporters of the National Literacy Trust’s work to advance young people’s literacy and communication skills. We recently announced an extension of our partnership on Words for Work: Dream Big by another three years, doubling our commitment.”

Sue Fox, Estée Lauder Companies UK & Ireland
Read the full research report
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