The oft-quoted Hewlett Packard statistic—women only apply for jobs when they have 100% of the qualifications listed in the job description, whereas men are comfortable applying when meeting just 60%—has been examined and rehashed by a variety of publications over the years. Many journalists and other industry professionals have claimed that the culprit is a confidence gap among women, but others disagree. What’s the real story?
The real reason women aren’t applying for certain jobs
Shortly after the HP statistic was published, Tara Sophia Mohr, author of Playing Big: Find Your Voice, Your Mission, Your Message, surveyed more than a thousand professionals. She found that the majority of women refrained from applying for a job when they didn’t meet the qualifications because they didn’t want to waste their own time. It wasn’t a question of confidence, but rather an interest in putting their energy into opportunities they believed they would be offered. In fact, not thinking they’d be able to do the job successfully was the least cited reason why women didn’t apply for a position.
Mohr’s conclusion was that women need updated information about how hiring works. After all, many of those men who are only 60% qualified are getting job offers. She also pointed out that women tend to go for jobs for which they don’t have all the qualifications once they know that others are doing so—or rather, once they realize that’s how the game is played.
Leveraging LinkedIn for job searching
Though many no longer consider LinkedIn the go-to place for networking in many industries, the site does have valuable information about the people who still use it to network, including differences in men and women who are job hunting. A Gender Insights Report shows that men and women on LinkedIn tend to be almost equally interested in new job opportunities, and in researching a company before applying for a job there. Women are more selective about which jobs they apply for, while men are more likely to call on someone in their network for a referral. Recruiters are 13% more likely to click on a man’s profile, but once they apply, women are 16% more likely to get an offer—and that number goes up to 18% for more senior positions.
The myth of the confidence gap
More recently, Lauren Guillen, an Assistant Professor of Organizational Behavior at ESMT Berlin, has explored the so-called “confidence gap” and found that research doesn’t show a difference in confidence levels between men and women in the workplace. She suggests that the issue lies not with the women themselves, but with the organizational systems that reward men more than women.
“Only when organizations make active efforts to uncover gender biases and the processes that perpetuate them will they be able to become closer to the kinds of workplaces we believe in—where our talents and skills are rewarded fairly, regardless of gender,” writes Guillen.
How can organizations go about doing this? She recommends making the requirements for success in each role explicit, monitoring the promotions and career advancements of employees, and highlighting a wider variety of role models.
Women can channel this mindset when applying for jobs as well. Moving away from the myth of the confidence gap and learning more about the differences in how employers view male and female applicants—not to mention how male and female applicants differ in their approach to job applications—can yield valuable information. Think back to those LinkedIn statistics.
The relationship between confidence and incompetence
In 2019, organizational psychologist Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic gave a TEDx Talk that explored an intriguing question: Why do so many incompetent men become leaders? In it, he suggested that confidence isn’t necessarily a positive trait in a leader, and in fact is often mistakenly correlated with competence. He urges people to change their standards for leadership, and in doing so to stop encouraging women to act more like overconfident, incompetent men in order to rise through the ranks of leadership roles.
“The paradoxical implication is that the same psychological characteristics that enable male managers to rise to the top of the corporate or political ladder are actually responsible for their downfall,” Chamorro-Premuzic writes in a Harvard Business Review article. “In other words, what it takes to get the job is not just different from, but also the reverse of, what it takes to do the job well. As a result, too many incompetent people are promoted to management jobs, and promoted over more competent people.”
We’d love to hear your thoughts on the relationship between confidence and women applying for jobs. Feel free to reach out with any comments or questions.
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