6 Mar 2018

Confidence works for men, not women

From Afternoons with Jesse Mulligan, 1:36 pm on 6 March 2018

A study in Australia has found that while having a confident personality helps men rise in the workplace, there is no benefit for women showing assertiveness.

Dr Leonora Risse, economic researcher at RMIT University in Melbourne, led the study which used government data alongside a psychological framework to assess the career prospects of men and women.

Research out of Australia has found companies prefer to promote confident men more than women who show assertiveness

Research out of Australia has found companies prefer to promote confident men more than women who show assertiveness Photo: Science Media Centre

The study is the largest of its kind in Australia, examining the promotion prospects and confidence levels of more than 7500 working men and women across the country.

Using nationally representative workforce-wide data collected in the Household, Income and Labour Dynamics in Australia (HILDA) survey, the research looked at the interplay between gender, confidence and job promotion.

Risse says women are being encouraged to be bold, assertive and to “lean in”, but her findings throw doubt on the Sheryl Sandberg school of thought. 

“I started investigating the data and looking at whether more confident women were more likely to receive job promotion and the evidence isn’t there.

“It suggests that placing all this onus on women to change their behaviour is actually distracting attention away from some of the bigger issues such as gender biases that are still within organisations.”

The study measured confidence using a psychological survey instrument that contains two dimensions - hope for success and fear of failure.

Workers with higher confidence, or hope for success, were generally more likely to be promoted in the following year.

On average, men have a higher hope for success, while women have a higher fear of failure.

The catch is that among men, progressive increases in hope for success lift their job promotion prospects - by 3.3 per cent on average. But increases in hope for success don't translate to any sizeable increase in the promotion prospects of women.

The gender disparity is starkly revealed when comparing a man and a woman at the top of the confidence scale: the chance of promotion rises from 8 percent to 14 percent for a highly confident man, but remain at around 7 to 8 per cent for a highly confident woman.

The research in Australia chimes with research elsewhere, Risse says

“There are studies from America which show a man who shows confidence is viewed favourably - he’s decisive and firm and authoritative - whereas if a female shows these traits she’s perceived to be bossy, headstrong or too ambitious.”

She believes Sandberg’s lean in concept is too narrow.

“Because it is encouraging women to converge to one mould and suggesting that there’s only one way to be successful and that’s to be bold and assertive.

"It’s overlooking a lot of the other important attributes, personality traits and talents that people can offer workplaces.”

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