Better Speak Up

A study finds women undersell their performances, even when they do as well as men

When it comes to assessing prowess at work, men go above and beyond, while women opt for a more underwhelming approach. That’s one takeaway from a study by researchers at Harvard Business School and the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania. The team found that — despite men and women performing about the same — men oversell their performances and women undersell theirs.

The Harvard and University of Penn team arrived at this thesis by first asking 900 workers to take a test. They then asked those same workers to gauge their performance on the test using a 0-100 scale, with 100 indicating that they were completely confident they did well. This assessment was given to a hypothetical prospective employer. Markertwatch reports that while the men and women performed almost exactly the same, women workers on average ranked their performance 15 points lower than men. “When communicating to potential employers, women systematically provide less favorable assessments of their own past performance and potential future ability than equally performing men,” explained the researchers in their study.

The researchers hypothesized that one reason the women undersold themselves was that they might consider self-promotion a poor trait. The women workers might also fear backlash for speaking of themselves confidently. Both are essentially the result of years of systemic sexism. The researchers explained that this study shows just how far women still must go to break through the effects of sexism.

Chris O'Shea

Chris O'Shea

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