Is sexism in the workplace killing your confidence?
Although women are increasingly demanding equal pay, sexism in the workplace remains rife.
Sure, the Fortune 500 list features more female CEOs than ever – and it's easy to assume that women are now reaching further. Yet, a report published in the Harvard Business Review has shown that the truth is somewhat different.
It claims that after just two years of employment, women’s confidence and ambition drops significantly. And the likelihood is that it will affect their career progression.
Over the past 60 years, the US workforce has changed dramatically. The number of women in work has almost doubled. In addition, the number of females on undergraduate courses has outnumbered men since the 1970s.
Yet, women account for only 25% of executive and senior-level officials and managers. In the G7 as a whole, over 40% of businesses employ no women at senior level. It’s true that career breaks related to pregnancy and raising children account for some of the disparity between the career paths. After all, it is still women that, by and large, soak up the majority of childcare responsibilities.
But it is not as simple as that.
Sexism in the workplace
Increasingly, the divide is also being attributed to differing attitudes to work in men and women. Namely that women don’t feel as comfortable pushing themselves into those senior roles.
A study carried out by Bain & Company quizzed over 1,000 people about their job aspirations and confidence. They found that while women had more ambition than men at the start of their careers, after two years, "aspiration and confidence plummeted 60% and nearly 50%, respectively."
Interestingly, this was the case regardless of whether or not the woman was a wife or a mother. Men’s confidence and ambition, on the contrary, only dropped by an average of 10%.
Even women in senior management roles reported lower confidence levels than men of equal standing. Almost double the number of men believed they would make “top management” status at some point during their career.
Women are more likely to undersell themselves
So what causes this disparity between women and men? Well, there is a case to be made that the confidence gap between men and women exists long before starting work.
A report by Columbia Business School in New York estimated that men experience an “honest overconfidence” in their own abilities of about 30%. Whereas women are considerably more likely to undersell themselves. But it is notable how much this confidence gap is exacerbated by the workplace.
When asked by the Bain & Company survey to rate how well they felt that they matched up to the typical idea of “success” and the “ideal worker” at their companies, men and women gave fairly equal figures early on.
However, just a few years later, women had dropped by 15%, and men by just 9%. Men, it seems, were more comfortable with the idea that they could achieve this image. For women, a lack of role models, and the absence of supervisory support made a big impact.
How can we help women get their confidence back?
So what can be done to help women get their confidence back?
The results of this survey show that genuine support, positive reinforcement and having women in the workplace to look up to make a major difference.
For their part, employers must be sure to make clear what exactly an “ideal employee” looks like. They must also be conscious that they are judging their male and female employees equally.
And if they do, they’ll be rewarded too. Six separate global studies have shown that companies employing high numbers of women outperform their competitors in every measure.
The bottom line on sexism in the workplace
As you are probably aware, the results of the survey are nothing new. Additionally, it’s only natural that the longer you work for, they less bright-eyed and bushy-tailed you’re likely to be, whether male or female. After all, the stereotype of getting old and cynical exists for a reason.
But that this disparity between male and female confidence exists to such an extent, and so early on in career paths, is worrying. Let’s hope that the wave of girl power sweeping the world right now gives us all a much-needed boost, as it's evident that women feeling confident in the workplace benefits everyone.