A woman’s more effacing personality may be costing her when it comes to leadership positions. A new study from Kellogg School of Management finds that those who blow their own horns are more likely to be considered as leaders.
Study after study has shown that women tend to understate their abilities, whether it be financial knowledge, investment ability or job performance. This puts them at a distinct disadvantage when competing for leadership positions.
Researchers Ernesto Reuben, Pedro Rey-Biel, Paola Sapienza, and Luigi Zingales set out to determine why men tend to fare better in competitive environments than women. They divided MBA students into teams and had each team select a leader to represent them in a competition, which involved doing a series of calculations. The subjects in this study had previously performed the same task two years earlier, so they could use their past performance as a means of predicting their chances of winning this time around. Before the leader selection took place, the students were asked to recall how well they had done two years ago, and to predict how well they would do in this new challenge.
Women were selected as group leaders 33.3 percent less frequently than they should have been based solely on how well they did in the earlier competition.
What was at the heart of gender bias? They tested three possible theories as to why women were less frequently selected as leaders: “The first was a difference in the way men and women judge their own abilities. The second was a difference in how men and women describe their abilities. And the third was a difference in how men and women deal with what the researchers all ‘agency problems,’ or how they ‘respond to conflicts of interest between their own interest and the group’s’.”
Did you guess number two? Don’t be shy if you did. “By far the most important reason why women were being underrepresented as team leaders was how they portrayed their abilities relative to men’s,” the researchers found. “Both men and women in the study were inclined to overstate how well they had done in the earlier competition, but men were far more willing to do so.”
But what vexed the researchers most was that the people evaluating candidates for leadership did not take this into consideration. “The fact that men tend to overstate, that’s not a surprise, Sapienza said. “But if everyone knows that, why don’t they just say, ‘If men say 5, it must be 3?”