“Whatever women do they must do twice as well as men to be thought half as good” ~ Charlotte Whitton
This particular quote gets bandied around a bit, and with recent developments at Google it seems that this old ‘chestnut’ has a bit more life in it yet!
So let’s start at the beginning.
There are biological gender differences between women and men. My three year old knows that. A slightly more sophisticated analysis of the topic was offered by Louann Brizendine in her brilliant book The Female Brain*.
But as a recent article by Harvard Business Review points out, these biological differences do not account for differences in women’s representation at leadership and board levels, nor do they account for the over-representation of women in ‘soft’ professions (nursing, teaching) and under-representation of women in ‘hard’ professions (engineering, science, technology).
Now the problem with all generalisations (including this one) is that they conceal a significant and important number of individual cases that buck the trend – there are many highly skilled and successful men in nursing, and there are many respected, talented women kicking a*se in STEM careers.
So what’s actually going on?
Like all good ‘wicked problems’ the answer is: lot’s of things. Hence why the issues have been intractable, and while progress has been possible in some areas, there is still a long way to go.
But here’s one thing that I think warrants a bit of exploration.
The Gender Confidence Gap
This differential ‘burden of evidence’ that women are held to is an issue by itself, because how does one assess ‘potential’?
The answer may lie in an anecdotal snippet further through the book where Sandberg refers to an internal survey completed by a major IT corporation that found that “women only apply for open jobs if they think they meet 100 percent of the criteria listed, men apply if they think they meet 60 percent of the requirements”. This, my friends, is about confidence. Plain and simple.
And what is one of the factors that screams ‘potential’ when we’re assessing the capabilities of potential future leaders in an organisation? Confidence!
Whether the anecdote is accurate or not, it almost certainly contains a grain of truth – and to that end, it tells us something that we women need to think about: whether your humility and perfectionism is endearing, or doing serious harm to women’s progress across the board.
Dress-ups, Cos-play and Confidence
Have you ever been to a fancy-dress party and really gone to town with your costume?
In my late teens I went to a 1970s themed party, wearing a long red wig, giant platform shoes and a leopard striped jumpsuit (with flared legs, of course). Nobody recognised me, despite that the party was actually hosted by me and my flatmates, at our house.
It was the most liberating feeling I’ve ever experienced.
I share this not because of any stunning leadership insights that I gained that night, but because sometimes all it takes is a few ‘props’ to create the confidence you need to step well outside your comfort zone. A great suit – especially if it fits properly – works wonders for me.
In a recent post I wrote about an approach to overcoming impostor syndrome (becoming a superhero), as an authentic approach to building confidence in a new role quickly. Check it out for some further ideas.
But this only works if you apply for the job in the first place.
Concluding Thoughts on the Gender (Confidence) Gap
When Charlotte Whitton said “Whatever women do they must do twice as well as men to be thought half as good” she didn’t stop there. She went on to say… “Luckily, this is not difficult.”
I don’t advocate that women’s success needs to be at the expense of men. The world needs leadership like never before, and there is plenty of opportunity to go around – let’s just reclaim our seat at the table.
For my part, I will continue to actively thank and congratulate women who work for me when they negotiate for a higher salary. It’s brave, shows confidence, and needs to be encouraged.
What are you going to do?
* These links are Amazon Associate links. If you click and purchase, I will receive a small commission. For this I thank you.
I want to help you to lead. Not from a position of power, but from exactly where you are now.
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