A recent study in the Journal of Labour Economics revealed that “overconfidence” is a metric that’s causing men to get ‘top jobs’ faster than women. The report highlights that this is the driving force of 5-11% of the gender gap in leadership positions.
So, why is this the case, and what can we all do in light of these alarming statistics? Here, Brooke Taylor, who is a Career Coach to Australia’s top female leaders, shares how she helps her clients leverage overconfidence to land promotions at the same rate as men.
As well as a transformational Career Coach for over 5,000 women across the globe, Brooke has been a speaker for leading tech and financial organisations. She was awarded LA Weekly’s Career Coach to follow for 2023, and The Top Career Coach by The Australian Business Journal.
Could you tell us a bit more about the overconfidence phenomenon?
The overconfidence gap is the disparity in self-perceived abilities versus their actual performance. Men tend to overestimate their own skills, knowledge, and capabilities relative to their objective performance levels and women tend to underestimate their own skills, knowledge and capabilities. This means they’re applying for jobs more frequently and when they have fewer qualifications, while women are self-selecting out of job opportunities.
As a career coach, I help conscious corporate women to actually feel successful. So often I hear from a woman who has years of experience, a lot of success “on paper”, and still doesn’t think she is enough or capable of advancing further. Part of the solution to restoring her confidence and self-worth is to help her to adapt to a growth mindset, practising bravery, and healing her success wound.
As a career coach, what strategies do you employ to help women leverage overconfidence to land jobs and promotions?
There are two main strategies that help my clients tap into their overconfidence.
Reframe overconfidence as a growth mindset. A growth mindset is the belief that you can learn and close the skill gap on the job! You don’t have to have direct experience to deserve the job, just a willingness and appetite to learn. There’s a famous stat that men apply to jobs when they have 60% of the qualifications and women apply when they have 100% of the qualifications. Let’s all adopt a growth mindset and remember we can learn, shall we?
Practice bravery: Often what holds women’s confidence back is a fear of failure or looking incompetent. Women were raised to be obliging, kind, accommodating, and perfect instead of brave, messy, and confident. The world rewards bravery, not perfection. Get comfortable with failure, looking incompetent, or not getting it right. Practice doing brave and courageous acts everyday, like speaking about something you’re not an expert on but have a point of view on, or reaching out to someone for a networking conversation.
Heal their success wound: After coaching thousands of women through confidence issues, I realized that the root cause of low confidence is low self-worth. And low self-worth in the workplace is a function of what I call “the success wound”, which is the pain that comes from mistaking success or failure for self-worth. When women think that their failure (or success) dictates their worthiness of love and belonging, then they are less likely to take risks, and more likely to seek perfectionism, overworking, or self-selecting out. Healing the success wound involves creating a new definition of success that allows for experimentation, growth, and failure.
More broadly, in your experience working with top female leaders, what are some common challenges they face when navigating the gender leadership gap?
There are a host of systemic and societal challenges that are a headwind towards progress in seeing greater representation such as bias, stereotypes, culture, and policy. I want to call out three of the biggest challenges I hear more frequently from my clients.
Most notably, likeability bias is when women are perceived as less likable when they break out of social norms and behave in more “traditionally male” ways such as ambitious, assertive, or directive. This can lead to unequal promotion and development opportunities.
The absence of flexible work policies or favourable parental leave policies is one of the biggest reasons women cannot advance or drop out of the workforce altogether. Companies with better flexible work and parental leave tend to have a higher retention and advancement for women.
Finally, women tend to be over-mentored and under-sponsored. A lack of sponsorship via informal networks and relationships can greatly deter leadership advancement.
How do you support your clients to strike a balance between confidence and overconfidence, ensuring they are viewed positively in the workplace?
There’s a difference between having a growth mindset (I don’t know yet but I can learn) and false hubris or arrogance (I say I know how to do something but don’t actually know). While it’s not a woman’s responsibility to account for likeability bias, there are certain ways to have a growth mindset while maintaining confidence. For example, learning how to strategically ask for help to uplevel a skill, or doing your best to present your point of view when you’re not an expert without risking the quality of the work.
Yet it’s also critical to always assess the risk of your overconfidence to the work product. If you truly do not know how to do something, it’s time to ask for help or call in support. While we never want to put our team or work at risk through over-estimating our abilities, personally I would rather see women step into overconfidence sometimes as a means of learning new skills, and raising their overall confidence.
Visit Brooke’s website: https://brooketaylorcoaching.com
For more career advice and news, check out: