There’s an art to self-promotion. Too much and you’re a braggart, too little and you’re left wondering why less competent people keep getting promoted above you. Folk wisdom tells us that men are better at self-promotion than women, which has contributed to disparities in pay and the gender imbalance in senior positions.
This was certainly a topic of conversation amongst many of the women we interviewed for our Wonder Women book.
“Arguably men take more risks. There is also more tolerance of men making mistakes, but maybe they’re just better at how they present them. If you start in a position of self-doubt, there’s a danger you present mistakes as mistakes rather than bold bets that didn’t quite come off.” says Kate Thornton, CCO, SES Water
A Harvard Business School study looked to understand how individuals described their own performance in self assessments. They found that women tended to describe their performance in tests lower than men did, despite the fact that both groups had the same average test scores. The spread was significant – women on average gave themselves 46 out of 100, while men scored themselves 61. These figures in themselves are not that surprising, but what is surprising is the fact that the women in the study still underscored themselves (and indeed, men overscored themselves) despite being aware of how they had actually performed and that their employer would use their self-assessment scores when assessing promotion and pay-levels.
The research suggests that simply telling women how well they’ve performed won’t be enough to encourage them to self-promote; less focus on self-assessment and adopting more objective performance metrics might be a better solution.