The great imbalance: Female confidence in business

Female confidence in businessWith the overwhelming success of Sheryl Sandberg’s ‘Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead’ and the fight for gender equality frequently making headlines, the issue of women’s empowerment in the business world has never been so relevant. Sandberg’s book was published in 2013 and remained at the top of bestseller lists for months afterwards. Sales and rankings aside, however, it can also be argued that the book’s real success was to open a focused discussion about women’s attitude to their own careers.

It’s no secret that the business world is male-dominated. Recent statistics from the US show that whilst women make up 50% of those with college degrees and 40% of those with MBAs, under 5% of the CEOs of Fortune 500 companies are female. In the UK FTSE top 100, its female CEOs make up a tiny 6%.

The statistics don’t bode well for a world that is taking gender equality in the workplace more seriously than ever before. Why are there more male CEOs with the name David in the UK than there are women? What is it that’s holding us back?

An overwhelming number of studies come back suggesting the same thing: women don’t believe in their own abilities in the workplace. Women, in short, lack confidence.

This idea isn’t ground breaking. Any expert will be able to give you dozens of reasons why today’s society is better at criticising women than it is at celebrating them. But a closer look at the statistics gives some insight into exactly how this lack of confidence is holding women back.

1. Perfectionism

A recent study showed that upon perusal of a job advertisement, most women would only consider applying if they fulfilled 100% of the criteria whilst a man would consider himself viable with 50% of the skills required.

2. Salary Negotiation

Research conducted by a professor at Yale Business School showed that women are three times less likely to negotiate their salary than men. When they do negotiate, they ask for an average of 30% less than the average male colleague.

3. Career Aspiration

Management consulting firm Bain & Company found that 43% of female employees starting at a company hoping to eventually obtain a top managerial position but after two years this number drops down to 16%.

4. Assertiveness

Victoria Brescoll of Yale Business School discovered that confident women in the business world think they need to conceal their self-assuredness. Worryingly, this desire to keep quiet and hold back only increases with the seniority of the woman’s position. Therefore, even whilst women become better leaders with age and experience, they lack the confidence to prove this to their employers and colleagues, missing out on promotions and greater responsibility.

Perhaps the most frustrating thing to come out of these statistics is the proof that women do make extremely competent leaders. Consulting firm Zenger Folkman discovered that female leaders were actually rated better than their male counterparts on almost every aspect of the job apart from technological skills, innovation and strategy. Another study by the same company demonstrated that whilst men were more effective in positions of responsibility than women at the beginning of their careers, women over the age of 40 were much more effective at leadership than men of the same age. Research by an organisation called Catalyst has even shown that companies with a larger number of high-ranking female employees have better financial success. But despite all this, the business world still remains dramatically imbalanced in terms of male and female leadership.

The numbers undoubtedly show that the business world is male-dominated. However, this does not mean men in positions of power within companies want their female colleagues to miss out on the opportunity to lead, and nor do they necessarily believe themselves to be superior. In fact, one study revealed that when interviewed, male managers expressed frustration at their female employees for not applying for promotion or more responsibility. However, they avoided commenting in case it could be misconstrued as sexism. There is also a psychological aspect to male confidence that can be linked to male success in business. Ernesto Reuben, from Columbia Business School suggests that the reason men find it so much easier to move through the ranks of a business and project confidence is because they truly believe in themselves. There’s no ‘fake it ’til you make it’ policy.

They possess what he terms “honest overconfidence.” While a woman in a decision making environment may experience self-doubt, there is research to suggest that being questioned about their decisions actually enforces a man’s belief in his decision.

It is obvious that further work needs to be done on evening out the number of men and women in positions of power in the business world. But what of the work that is already being done to empower the next generation of female CEOs?

Initiatives such as the This Girl Can campaign, and the Girls Who Code immersion programme are just two examples of how adult women are working to ensure that young girls do not shy away from their true passions, or avoid certain careers that are normally associated with men. By equipping young women with badly-needed programming skills, Girls Who Code is providing young girls with a valuable skill that will dramatically increase their chances of employment. In today’s tech-focused society, approximately 3 start-ups are launched every second. In 2020, there will be an estimated 1.4 million computer science jobs in the US alone.

This Girl Can is a more general campaign designed to encourage women to have confidence in their area of interest. Be it sport, science or the creative arts, it would seem that today’s adult women are determined to keep female empowerment moving in the right direction. However, it’s also worth remembering that regardless of age, the science doesn’t lie. Women make great leaders, and should have the inner confidence to match.

Chloe Hashemi is the Editorial Executive for Camm & Hooper, who host an array of business and other prestigious events at their Central London Venues, Banking Hall, Tanner Warehouse and Victorian Bath House.

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