A journey to closing the gender number confidence gap

Image of Ernestina Saarrah-Mensah

Ernestina Saarrah-Mensah
Scottish Widows

Hello there! I’m Ernestina, and welcome to the next blog in our series: “Helping you to be money well.”

It’s safe to say that dealing with numbers is an everyday occurrence for most of us in some shape or form. However, numeracy levels across the UK are generally below average for developed countries, and so low numeracy skills and/or confidence is common, and can have a negative impact on an individual’s work and personal life. 

Research conducted by National Numeracy found that low number confidence is an issue that impacts women more than men, with more than half of British girls (54%) not feeling confident learning maths, compared to 41% of boys. 

I spoke to Rachel Proudfoot, Workplace Savings Proposition Manager at Scottish Widows, to discuss this gender numeracy gap and what can be done to raise awareness and begin to close this gap. 

Image of Rachel Proudfoot

Rachel Proudfoot is Scottish Widows’ Workplace Savings Financial Wellbeing lead. This involves helping individuals to feel more on top of their finances today, to better help them prepare for their future and their retirement. Rachel is also part of the National Numeracy Gender Taskforce, which aims to address the gender number confidence gap and encourages action from individuals and employers to close this gap.

What are potential drivers for this gap?

There is nothing to indicate that biologically women are less literate when it comes to maths and dealing with numbers. In fact, girls often outperform boys in maths, and a higher percentage of girls achieve top grades. 

This strongly points towards the conclusion that a lack of confidence amongst girls and women is what drives this numeracy gap, and why fewer girls go into jobs where maths is a key element, such as STEM careers. 

I know from my own experience the crucial role that role models play in encouraging development – both at a young, school age, but also as you get older throughout your career. The landscape is improving with more women entering into senior roles, STEM careers, and taking a more active role at home with managing bills on a regular basis. Traditionally, this hasn’t always been the case however, and many young girls and women didn’t have other women in these areas they could look up to and learn from to be encouraged to develop their numeracy skills. 

While on this basis, time should naturally improve this, there’s a lot more we need to do now to raise awareness of the gender number confidence gap and encourage women to enhance their skills and confidence when it comes to dealing with numbers. 

What are the benefits to closing this gap?

It goes without saying that closing the gender numeracy gap is both beneficial to society as a whole, but also to women themselves. 

Women are often put off applying for jobs that indicate a maths or numeracy element as they question their skillset in these areas. Overcoming that lack of self-confidence when it comes to dealing with numbers, will open up doors for further career progression. 

Those who do struggle with number confidence have an opportunity to become future role models for others who struggle. Being open about facing blockers they experience, and enhancing their skills and confidence will help set an example for others who face the same challenges. 

We also have an opportunity here to inspire the next generation of girls to continue maths-based subjects and purse careers in maths-based jobs, which will ultimately lead to more diverse workforces. 


What can be done to close this gap? 

Challenge your mindset - Mindset is a hugely important factor in improving women’s confidence with numbers. Many women are blocked by the belief that they simply “aren’t good with numbers” which for the majority of people isn’t actually the case. If you think you do struggle with numbers, there are opportunities for you to learn and develop your skills so try changing your mindset to “I’m not good with numbers yet.”

Get more practice - Like anything, the more you do something, the easier it gets. So getting more exposure to numbers in day-to-day life is a good place to start to increase your confidence. People often think that they don’t need to be good with numbers, but given our lives are impacted by numbers and money on a daily basis, this isn’t really the case.

Simple tasks such as managing household bills on a regular basis or setting yourself a monthly budget will not only help enhance your skills and confidence but will also help you see the day-to-day benefit of having this skill.

Become a champion
 - To prevent the gender numeracy gap continuing into future generations, encourage younger girls to explore maths as a subject and career path, and encourage them to use and see the value of maths in daily life so they see the benefit of continuing to enhance their skills in this subject. And champion with the women in your lives too – interrupt those fixed mindsets – as low confidence with numbers is a key barrier to career and wider life opportunities too.

Connect with others - Try and find a network amongst your colleagues, friends, or family who you can be open with. People who you feel comfortable sharing your own worries or challenges with. Finding a role model or mentor that you can look up to and learn from could be hugely beneficial in inspiring you to enhance your own skills.

Remember role models and mentors don’t always need to be someone senior within a workplace. They can simply be someone you admire, or someone who has come from a similar background to you. What is important is that they are someone you think you could truly learn from. 

And lastly, be patient - It takes time to build your confidence and if you do feel you need to improve your skills, it won’t happen overnight so invest the time in developing your skills.

Are there any resources available to help people? 

National Numeracy are a charity who are committed to closing the gender number confidence gap within the UK. They make it their mission to empower individuals across the UK to get on with numbers so they can access more opportunities and fulfil their potential. National Numeracy put transforming mindsets, building confidence and improving attitudes towards numeracy at the heart of everything they do.

Their National Numeracy Challenge is a free online tool that helps builds numeracy skills, whilst addressing your confidence and how you feel about maths. It uses a variety of questions, videos and ideas to cover the maths we all need in everyday life, tailoring a learning journey just for you and building confidence along the way.

Try it now, at: www.nationalnumeracy.org.uk/challenge/scotwidows

The above link has been provided by National Numeracy. Please refer to National Numeracy’s privacy notice https://www.nationalnumeracy.org.uk/privacy-policy for information about how your personal data will be processed.


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