Confidence or Femininity?

Women in the workplace are not rewarded for self-confidence.
Confidence or Femininity?

EXUDING SELF-CONFIDENCE is not equally rewarded for men and women at work, according to research by Laura Guillén, assistant professor of organizational behavior at ESMT Berlin in Germany; Margarita Mayo, professor of leadership and organizational behavior at IE Business School in Madrid, Spain; and Natalia Karelaia, associate professor of decision sciences at INSEAD in Fontainebleau, France.

The three researchers analyzed the judgments that colleagues made regarding the self-confidence and influence of 236 highly skilled computer engineers at a multinational software company. The team examined the workers’ job performance, self-confidence, organizational influence, and “prosocial orientation”—that is, their level of concern for others’ welfare at work. They found major differences in how self-confidence translates into influence for men and women.

For men in the study, there were direct correlations between their performance evaluations, perceived self-confidence, and organizational influence. For example, the more self-confident they were, the more influence they wielded. However, women were considered influential only when they exhibited “nurturing” behavior—even when they had achieved good job performance and had high self-confidence.

“Sadly, women in historically masculine professions are not yet judged by gender-neutral standards,” Karelaia says. “Often, their excellence is recognized only if they appease gender stereotypes.”

While some industry observers have argued that women are less confident than men, which hurts their chances for promotion, this latest research indicates that women can’t simply rely on self-confidence if they want to move up in the ranks. But Karelaia thinks women shouldn’t be the only ones performing emotional labor. Companies that care about gender equality should make “being a good organizational citizen” a requirement for both men and women, she says.

She adds, “Organizations should be willing to question the assumptions of meritocracy. It is obvious that women are not accepted on their merits alone, so supervisors should take these findings into account when appraising the performance of their female staff.”

“Appearing self-confident and getting credit for it: Why it may be easier for men than women to gain influence at work” is forthcoming in Human Resource Management. It was presented at the Academy of Management annual meeting. View a video of Laura Guillén discussing this topic.