They say fortune favours the bold, but confidence does little to help Australian women get ahead in their careers, according to an economics researcher from RMIT University.
If you are a man, however, her new survey results show that self-belief does carry you further on the road to professional success, increasing your chances of a promotion by 3.3% on average.
Postdoctoral fellow Leonora Risse suggests the broad point most people have taken away from the popular book Lean In by former Facebook executive Sheryl Sandberg — that women should be more assertive — might be “misguided” even though it seems logical. She suggests that efforts to reduce “gender bias” at an organisational level might be more successful than individual efforts by women to be extra confident.
“Greater confidence does not translate into career gains, on the whole, for women,” Risse said.
“In fact, there is a risk that placing the onus on women to change their behaviour deflects attention from the bigger issue, which is the gender bias that appears to simmer beneath the surface in many organisational environments.
“Rather than pushing for behavioural change among women, workplaces should instead check for gender biases in how they value their workers’ attributes to ensure they don’t reward charisma over competence.”
According to the university’s statement, the average number of men who get a promotion over a year in Australia exceeds the number of women by about 150,000.
The study looked at more than 7500 working men and women across the country and is the largest of its kind conducted in Australia. It used data from the Household, Income and Labour Dynamics in Australia (HILDA) Survey and “a psychological survey instrument that contains two dimensions — hope for success and fear of failure” to measure confidence.
In general, people who think something good is going to happen are more likely to be promoted the next year. Dividing the results along gender lines, men generally have a more positive outlook, while fear of failure is more common among women.
For men, the likelihood of getting promoted seems to increase slightly in line with their confidence levels, however this effect is all but non-existent for women, according to the survey.
RMIT reports the gender disparity is most apparent at the uppermost end of the confidence scale. Highly confident men had a 6% average boost in their chances of a promotion — from 8% to 14% — while highly confident women were only 1% more likely to get ahead than their peers.
“This signal of potential bias in how women are treated in the workplace is consistent with other research showing that women receive a lower benefit – or even suffer backlash – for demonstrating ambition, confidence, assertiveness and leadership qualities in the workplace,” Risse said.
“Higher confidence does not necessarily equate to higher competence. In fact, overconfidence can lead to poor performance.
“Instead of encouraging women to converge to a stereotypical image of a successful leader, workplaces should focus on the gains that diversity in workers’ personalities and attributes brings to their organisation.”
The findings were presented recently at the inaugural Australian Gender Economics Workshop (AGEW) in Fremantle.