Self-image and professional competence(47 Posts)
This question is inspired by one of my LinkedIn contacts. I used to have some dealings with this man on one of the projects I worked on and he is - I'm sorry but I can't put this in nicer words - utterly useless in his job. When I worked with him he consulted for us and basically delivered poorly thought out minimal solutions that barely worked and didn't meet any of the minimum requirements.
Apparently he's since changed employers and obtained a position that I would never ever dream of even applying for - because I'm hopelessly underqualified for it! Reading through his LinkedIn CV, though, I can certainly see why it wouldn't come across that way. Apparently the man is an expert at anything he's ever touched - including the aforementioned delivery project which he lists as a professional success.
The thing is: I see this time and time again and it's a heavily gendered phenomenon. My male colleagues (with one notable exception, whom I ironically regard as one of the smartest people I know!) seem so secure in their own skills and knowledge. They seem to regard promotion, better positions and professional achievement in general as something they're entitled to and will occasionally threaten to (or will actually) resign if these things are denied to them.
In contrast, most of the very few women I work with appear to have the attitude that we ought to be grateful to the nice gentlemen who so generously offer us a job with some perks (exaggerating here, hope you get my drift) and that we don't actually know all that much and do all that well.
Now, I realize that objectively speaking this is bullshit! I see the work my male and female colleagues do and the women tend, on average, to be better. (No, this is not because women are generally better - I rather suspect that only women who are above average survive in a male dominated field like ours). I myself have maintained a top tier performance rating for three years running and have just been fast track promoted on account of my supposedly outstanding work. I still don't have half the confidence that some of even my junior male colleagues of middling work performance display.
This doesn't seem to matter so much in the short term - when people change jobs, though, it has an enormous impact - see moronic LinkedIn contact above. I've certainly been 'overtaken' by several male colleagues on account that they got hired away into jobs that I would simply never dream of applying for!
I've just become a mentor to part of the firm's graduate intake - among them several young women - and this is something I'd really like to address with them. Unfortunately, the only senior person I've ever really had the chance to discuss such matters with is the aforementioned male exception to the confidence-rule. We're both of the fake it till you make it persuasion, but I'm thinking there has got to be a more effective way of addressing this issue.
Any thoughts? And especially: any tips on how I can best support my female graduate mentees to avoid this trap?
I think there was some research that showed that a man would apply for a job if he met 50%+ of the required attributes where a woman would only apply if she met far more. My DH has just applied for a job and on the job description it says they would need international experience. I said 'hang on, you've no international experience' and he blithely said it would be fine and was fully confident that they'd want him. He's just got a second interview so it certainly hasn't put them off.
I'd have seen that on a job ad and thought I didn't have want they wanted so they wouldn't even consider me. Maybe tell your female mentees to chance it sometimes?
Quite agree with this, I noticed it a lot when I worked in bookselling. Men with much less experience than me would apply for higher level jobs.
There was a really interesting piece of research done where they put a job description up with the same skill requirements for two different salaries - the first for £100k and the second for £30k IIRC.
For the first job they had no female applicants, for the second they had many.
It appears that what holds capable women back is not their capabilities, but how capable they perceive themselves to be. Men for the most part think they're pretty damn good at anything they turn their hand to, and tend to overlook any proof to the contrary. Annoyingly it seems that recruiters have a similar over-belief in men and under-belief in women.
As frustrating as this is, I think the best thing you can do for your graduates is highlight that there's nothing wrong with going for a job where you don't have all the skills yet, otherwise you'd only ever move sideways and not upwards. And try to stop them underselling themselves, because heaven knows their male competition won't be.
Very interesting studies that have been mentioned here. Has anyone got links? I'm thinking about organising a lunch for my new graduates to present them with some of this stuff ...
The underselling part is something very peculiar IME. I agree that women do too much of it - but IME it also seems to be trickier for us to sell ourselves well or even oversell without it being held against us.
Point in case: I was recently turned down for a consulting mandate by a client because they didn't like the fact that I unequivocally stated that X was wrong and I could improve that. They told the account lead they thought my overconfidence was too risky. I'm arguably an expert in the field of X.
Instead they hired my then graduate trainee, a man. He told them X was wrong and he could do way better (or that's what he said he told them - without knowing I had said the same thing). They liked his confident, hands on approach.
Well, I guess at least I trained him well. He was able to spot the issue ...
I'm hunting for the studies through previous threads but not having much luck at the moment! Hopefully if I bump then someone more knowledgeable will come along and provide the links.
Fascinating (but very long) article here www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2014/05/the-confidence-gap/359815/ including references to research.
Thanks, Giraffe, that article is indeed fascinating (and also depressing - especially when you recognize yourself in at least half of what it posits).
I'm not that certain about the biological basis for confidence part - the evidence seems a bit flimsy (but then evolutionary psychology generally seems a bit far fetched to me - might admittedly have something to do with my own confirmation bias and the fact that most ev-psych stuff I've read has been the ramblings of some MRA).
I was also thinking about the catch 22 problem (also mentioned in the article) of women suffering drawbacks due to a lack of confidence and simultaneously not getting away with actually behaving confidently when that's not the problem for a change. It's not something I have any quick fixes for but definitely needs addressing!
I'm really keen to make a difference for the junior women working with me. My firm is actually quite good in a lot of respects in that they offer mentoring schemes and specific trainings for women, support flexible working models and have a compensation and career progression model that in theory at least is highly meritocratic. They're also appallingly bad in that they fail to address the rampant sexism in the tech industry on any level that exceeds the repetition of platitudes, address women's issues exclusively to is women and have been known to market courses in self-selling alongside those in makeup application as though the two were in any way of equal importance (and I'm saying that as an ardent lipstick feminist).
I think we can really do better and very much want to do so - especially for the younger women joining up. Not sure how we're going to get there yet ...
The problem is that women aren't the issue here. There is no behaviour that we can adopt that will magically fix this issue. Be assertive and you're called overconfident, bolshy, strident - there's an undertone that you've got ideas above your station, who does she think she is? Be compliant and people pleasing and you get overlooked and it's all your fault for not asserting yourself enough.
The best we can do is try to move to anonymous applications as far as possible which avoids sex bias (and racism, religious bias etc) at least for the first hurdle. If anyone doubts the impact of gender bias even at the cv stage, you can show them this:
I was also thinking about the catch 22 problem (also mentioned in the article) of women suffering drawbacks due to a lack of confidence and simultaneously not getting away with actually behaving confidently when that's not the problem for a change.
Oh yes - "I did X, Y and Z."
"Well, that wasn't just you, was it?" "Actually, the majority of it was. I was responsible for..."
"So we'll mark that down as a team effort."
Perhaps eliminating the idea of risk-taking behaviour being a 'male' trait might be of assistance.
It's the artificial gendering of behaviours that creates the situation where assertive women are called bolshy or strident.
Sheryl Sandberg examines many of these issues in Lean In. I would have thought that would be an excellent place to start for graduate mentees.
Woah - oneflew - that study was pretty unambiguous then (I was expecting something a little more subtle than a more than 10% pay offer discrepancy!)
The thing that annoyed me about Lean In is that it says to women that they can do as well as men if they sacrifice everything else and focus solely on their careers. I'm sure that works for some people, but it doesn't work for me. Yes we now have elite women who are able to break through the glass ceiling and do well in their field - that's fantastic for them but it means very little for 99% of working women.
Someone said on another thread, that women have to be the best or they may as well not be there but even then, a woman who's fantastic at a job can still be bypassed for a man with potential
still bitter. Equality shouldn't be measured by the elite, it should be an average woman having the same chance to progress and succeed as an average man. We need to fight for the right to be mediocre.
I was listening to R4 this morning and there was a programme about pay gaps etc and obviously women 'not asking for raises' cropped up...it's infuriating as, exactly as stated on here, when women do ask for raises they are regarded as pushy or over confident. It's driving me up the wall at the moment because it has come up in a few conversations I've had in RL.
well, and as that study shows, doesn't matter - if you're already starting at a point 10% less than the blokes then you've got a hell of a lot to catch up!
I had a conversation with my BIL this morning about this - he said that he'd never seen any of this discrimination (in a nice way) - I pointed him at this study, and bit my tongue that last week he said that his partner would have to take the day off to look after their son who had tonsilitis, even though I'd said he should (he works for me) since he wasn't feeling great anyway, and I'd prefer that he took the day off and got better (and looked after my nephew).
I had a conversation with my BIL this morning about this - he said that he'd never seen any of this discrimination
Well, he wouldn't necessarily if he doesn't actively engage in it, as you say. I've had that conversation, albeit not with someone who works for me but with someone I work for. He's right in that I don't experience this in my current position - that would be because despite his privilege blindness he's brilliant and mentors me and has been pushing on my behalf. Whichever part of my success I am not responsible for either he or his direct report are.
The thing is: even when we're in the privileged position of working for men who judge us by our contributions rather than by our sex we're still reliant on them being objective in a way that men usually aren't (at least not on that particular basis). That's the whole notion of privilege! Much to my boss's credit he actually seems to have grasped that after I explained it to him.
I really agree with the point about Lean In and the right to being mediocre, by the way. That's an excellent way of putting it! Working in a high pressure environment this is something I see everyday. I also suspect this may be the reason for something I've mentioned upthread, namely the few women in my field being exceptional on average. Interestingly this is something that IME doesn't appear to apply to my offshore teams in locations where there is more of a tradition of women in engineering/tech - at least not on the lower career levels (there simply aren't any women I work with on the mid- and upper levels). IMO that's exactly because - in Europe at least - for women in tech (and particularly in consulting where we generally practise 'grow or go') it's either excel at it or leave.
On a positive note, I had one of my grad schemers with me today when a 50-something blatantly incompetent contractor yelled at me that he wasn't 'taking orders from a hussy in a dress' after demonstrably lying about not having screwed with a live system. I tore him a new one. This led to a very good conversation with my mentee about how she would need to learn to believe in her own competence to be able to hold her own against the still widespread Neanderthal-techie and how we could best work together to get her there. Sad because she shouldn't have to but happy because our talk was extremely productive!
I didn't get that tone from LeanIn at all - I thought it collated a lot of good material. The impression I did get from Lean In was the same kind of feel as the female exec group I spent a little time volunteering with once. I was far far from their level so it was really interesting as a glimpse into a different world - they clearly knew there were "rules" about how to bring up feminist issues, that they needed to follow to get any cooperation. Always be positive - never ever present a problem without a solution, or a plan to develop one. Find the "good news" stories, and highlight those. Never show someone up.
Re: confidence, I found this very interesting
I think that women in a male dominated environment do have a harder time getting good quality feedback - I noticed that male colleagues often have (male) buddy networks that give feedback, offer tips & advice etc. And this advantage is utterly invisible to them.
I think men tend to bluff their way more, women are too honest and underseal themselves. See pp's husband who claims he has international experience, even though he hasn't!
My DH did something similar : he'd worked on a project that had vague connections with Kazakhstan. He heavily insinuated on his CV that he had actually worked in Kazakhstan and managed the entire bloody project! He got the job, of course.
Two good older (than Lean In) books about this are Hardball for Women by Pat Heim and Nice Girls Don't Get the Corner Office by Lois Frankel. Lots of acute observations, such as women often cutting their budget requests down in a desire to appear non-wasteful but that makes their project seem less important than it is; men, meanwhile, tend to say 'This is very significant and I need £££s to do it properly' and this is believed.
I think men tend to bluff their way more, women are too honest and underseal themselves.
I think this is true - but I also think that women are more likely to be disbelieved anyway, so it's riskier to bluff your way.
I also find it difficult to know just how good I am, because our department is far better at giving out negative feedback, rather than positive. I have been fighting for more objective review processes and so on, but it's definitely work in progress there. I do know it all affects my confidence, though, because when I think I've done a good job, I don't often get much feedback from others, and then I doubt myself. I suspect that this is quite a common experience, especially in male-dominated fields.
Having said that, a colleague left the company recently, and he really didn't seem to understand why he was being made redundant (rather than one of the others in his team.) He had a really high opinion of his abilities and experience - the only one capable of doing the technical work in his team and so on, and he's going to go and do X, Y and Z and save the IT world. Having worked with him on a project, I had to bite my tongue quite a bit - he's technically fine, but he's nothing special, and having also now worked with others in his team, they're not as bad as he had implied. I do wonder what it is that made him think so much of himself - and what his performance reviews and so on were like, that no one had given him any reason to reduce his opinion of himself just a notch or two.
I can't imagine there would be many women in tech who have that much of an over-high opinion of their abilities, as they will have had people putting their achievements down over their careers.
I bit my tongue because he's my BIL, and I work with him every day, and I'd already said that he should take the day off at the time (and I'm sure my face had shown by thoughts at the time when he'd said it). I didn't think that rubbing it in would be productive, when I had such good evidence in my pocket.
As much as I hate the whole 'if you asked nicer then we would listen' thing, I do think that sometimes, a soft persistence will do more than a full on head butt - much like dealing with toddlers.
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