Several years ago, Hewlett-Packard was trying to figure out how to get more women into top management positions. A review of personnel records found that women working at HP applied for a promotion only when they believed they met 100% of the qualifications listed for the job. But men were happy to apply when they thought they could meet 60% of the job requirements. At HP, and in study after study, the data confirm what we instinctively know:
Underqualified and underprepared men don’t think twice about leaning in.
Overqualified and overprepared, too many women hold back.
Women feel confident only when they are perfect. Or practically perfect.
On the other side of the country, the same thing plays out every day in Victoria Brescoll’s lecture hall at Yale’s School of Management. M.B.A. students are nurtured specifically to project confidence in the fashion demanded by today’s business world. But although all of her students are top-of-the-chart smart, she’s been startled to uncover her female students’ lack of belief in themselves.
“There’s just a natural sort of feeling among the women that they will not get a prestigious job, so why bother trying,” she explained. “Or they think that they are not totally competent in the area, so they’re not going to go for it.” As a result, female students tend to opt out. “They end up going into less competitive fields, like human resources or marketing,” she said. “They don’t go for finance, investment banks, or senior-track faculty positions.”
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