SAJU: Workplace myths used against women
Column: Pride, not Prejudice
Last week in this column, the gender pay gap and the wealth gap exposed how society systematically undervalued the paid and unpaid labor of women. This week, the translation of these two topics into the professional lives of women will be analyzed, beginning with the notion of the "confidence gap."
The confidence gap theory states that because women feel less confident than men in their abilities, they are more likely to be passed over for new projects, leadership roles and pay raises. This theory attempts to explain why women are underestimated at work, but attributing workplace discrimination to the fault of women is inherently problematic.
While there are many views on the causes of gender discrimination, two of the most prevalent lines of thinking are that either innate differences between men and women exist or the way that society treats women reflects gender bias. The confidence gap theory falls into the former, and reality falls into the latter.
The research suggests that women feel just as confident in their abilities as men do, and the confidence gap theory mistakes the symptom for the cause. Essentially, the ability of women to promote themselves professionally is not the cause of gender discrimination in the workplace. It is a warning sign of this problem, which is a problem that is mischaracterized in every industry.
In "The Confidence Gap In Men And Women: Why It Matters And How To Overcome It," Jack Zenger confuses imposter syndrome — the constant feeling of inadequacy despite the presence of evident success — with insecurity, and mischaracterizes a telling statistic. Unsurprisingly, he references that "men apply for a job or promotion when they meet only 60% of the qualifications, but women apply if they meet 100% of them."
This statistic from a Hewlett Packard internal report has been quoted in numerous articles and famous books like "Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead" by Sheryl Sandberg. It is usually pointed at as evidence for why women need to become more confident – as if the answer to gender discrimination is to encourage women to act more like men.
Zenger states that "men are not exempt from doubting themselves — but they don't let their doubts stop them as often as women do."
This statement, along with the tips he offers about how women can become more confident by speaking up and projecting their voices, perpetuates a notion that all women need to somehow conform to a single mold to succeed in a workplace environment.
Not only is "just get more confidence" bad advice, it unfairly places the burden of correcting the gender imbalance on women.
Tara Sophia Mohr, in "Why Women Don't Apply for Jobs Unless They're 100% Qualified," counters the popular narrative that Zenger supports with a more in-depth analysis. She found that when people chose not to apply to jobs, it was not because they thought they needed all of the qualifications to do the job well. It was because they believed that they needed all of the qualifications to be hired in the first place.
People were declining to apply to jobs not because they were misjudging their abilities, but because they misjudged the hiring process: "They didn't see the hiring process as one where advocacy, relationships, or a creative approach to framing one's expertise could overcome not having the skills and experiences outlined in the job qualifications."
The famous Hewlett Packard statistic is not reasoning for women to sacrifice their unique personalities to lead more "confidently" like men. Instead, it is a wake-up call that not everyone is approaching the job market in the same way, and not everyone is treated equally in the job search.
A McKinsey report reveals how men are evaluated by their potential for success, but women are judged by their past achievements. Managers make the decisions not to hire or promote women because they fear the workload itself, or balancing the role with domestic responsibilities, will somehow hinder the applicant's ability to work.
Nevertheless, this so-called well-intentioned behavior is "another mindset that forms a barrier to advancing women."
While pep talks about knowing one's worth and developing one's skills can be beneficial, true workplace transparency will work toward achieving gender equity in the workplace.
Imposter syndrome is real, but so is the double standard.
Neha Saju is a School of Arts and Sciences second-year student planning on majoring in political science and history and minoring in English. Her column, "Pride, Not Prejudice," runs on alternate Fridays.
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