Have you noticed we’re always talking about what women are doing wrong in business?
We cite statistics like women earn 48.5% of law degrees and 47.5% of medical degrees; yet, only make up 23% of law partners and only 40% of physicians and surgeons.
We talk about how women comprise 47% of the U.S. labor force but when it comes to management and executive positions women represent only 38% of managers in business and under 5% of the CEOs in the Fortune 500.
Pundits say it’s because women either lack confidence, competence, ambition, or a combination of all three. Bestsellers like Lean In or Nice Girls Don’t Get The Corner Office perpetuate these misguided notions.
However, the truth about why women aren’t succeeding in the workplace is far different. If you read, former Google and Facebook marketer Marissa Orr’s book Lean Out, Orr shows the reasons for women’s purported lack of confidence, competence, and ambition are really myths.
The confidence myth
Women do not lack confidence. You only need to look at the McKinsey study of Women in the Workplace 2016 to see the evidence. In the report, men and women agree in equal numbers— 87% each—that they are confident.
Orr says the problem for women is not confidence. The problem is that confidence has been mischaracterized in business as bluster and loudness. The loudest person in the room is seen as confident.
Confidence is not the problem. The definition is the problem. The definition for confidence needs to widen to include people who believe in themselves without demanding all eyes on them.
The competence myth
Women definitely do not lack competency. If you look at the number of degrees women earn, you can see they are prepared as men—maybe even more so. Women earn 57% of the undergraduate degrees, 59% of the master’s degrees, and almost the same amount of law and medical degrees.
Yet, when it comes to hiring, women are overlooked. In studies where the same resume is submitted with a male name and a female name, the male name is called in for interviews more often.
Orr says the problem is not competency. The problem is competence in business is usually associated with self-promotion. Since there are few objective measures for many knowledge-based jobs, the people who self-promote are seen as competent.
The ambition myth
Women don’t lack ambition either. If you consider going after raises and promotions as a sign of ambition, men and women are equally ambitious. In the McKinsey study Women in the Workplace 2018, men and women went for raises and promotions in equal numbers: 29% of men and 31% of women negotiated a raise, and 36% of men and 37% of women negotiated for a promotion.
Women want promotions. However, when it comes to promotions women are passed over. Women are promoted 79 times for every 100 men. This results in a gender imbalance in management: 62% men and 38% women.
It’s not that women lack ambition to be promoted or earn more money. They are not being chosen for those positions.
So what’s the solution?
If women are just as confident, competent, and ambitious as men, then what’s the problem? Why aren’t women succeeding like men? Orr says for women to succeed in the workplace, the corporate environment needs to change. We need to change what’s valued and rewarded at work.
Instead of just valuing competition in the workplace, which favors men, we should value collaboration too. Real metrics should be developed to measure people’s competitive AND collaborative contributions to the job—just as they do in sports. In basketball, for example, players’ contributions for points scored and for assists are both valued.
In the end, Orr says if we start to place emphasis on collaboration in our hiring, evaluation, and promotional practices, the result will be more gender diversity at all levels in our organizations. Not only will there be more women in management and executive positions, but the diversity will also result in higher returns at the end of each quarter.