You might have read that women tend to underestimate their performance while men tend to overestimate theirs. Yet when researchers measure actual performance, we perform the same.
Unfortunately there is a flow on effect of underestimation in that we frequently don’t stretch as far or as high as might be possible, which goes some way to precluding us from meatier and more substantive opportunities.
Tara Mohr, Playing Big, challenged the assumption that low confidence was behind this. Her own research found that women were less likely to apply if we didn't think we'd be in the running.
Now a new study by researchers at the University of Michigan found that women tend to shy away from opportunities where there is more competition.
Now part of me thinks this is purely smart.
But then I'm a woman so it's highly likely I would.
And maybe this is yet another factor cutting us out of the running for leadership opportunities where we might really have a greater impact.
Fire up your winning streak
I’ve written before about learning the rules of the career game. We need to learn the rules so we can either play by them or possibly bend them when we need. We also need to learn the unwritten ground rules, so we can at the least be on the same playing field. If a competitive nature and a winning streak are a pre-requisite, then we need to understand our tendency to avoid it, so we do get access to those meatier more substantive opportunities.
It’s just like a game of Snakes and Ladders:
- There are times when ladder opportunities will come your way, you will put your hand up before you feel ready and say “hell yes” then puzzle out the solution afterwards.
- There will also be times when you don’t see one of those unwritten ground rules, maybe to do with competitive nature, playing to win, or bias, and you'll slide down a the board on a snake.
- But the ultimate goal is not to worry too much about the individuals ladders and snakes, but to win at the game. And the game is leading or creating a career that really counts.
Don’t play a defensive game - take control instead
Given that those who are more confident appear to “win” at work, rest and play, maybe it’s time for us to flick this switch. We want to switch from Abba’s “take a chance on me” to Kylie’s (paraphrased) “I [you] should be so lucky” to have me! Even if we feel as though we're faking it til we make it, it's the way the game is played.
Some examples of what taking control might look like when applying for roles
1. When assessing a role when considering whether or not to apply for it instead of passively relying on job adverts and position descriptions to help you make your decision, get on the front foot and do your research. What’s written in the documentation is such a subjective, narrow definition and interpretation of an actual role and frequently doesn't paint an accurate picture. Your interpretation of "exciting social media presence" might be very different to someone else's interpretation. So do your homework and ask questions and never assume.
2. When preparing your application take control and focus on how to “win” the interview, rather than relying passively on recruiters or the process like everyone else. Reach out to others in the organisation who you might know what the hot spots are. Is their strategic agenda visible on their website or social media presence and what does it tell you about the organisation as a whole? Get on the front foot, colour outside the lines a little and be proactive with your approach and preparation.
3. In response to interview questions -
- If someone says “so why should we pick you for the role?” - instead of fumbling for an answer and feeling like you a scene from Oliver Twist begging for more, flip it on it’s head. Smile confidently and ask the interviewer back “maybe I should ask you - why I should come and work for you?”
- If someone asks if you have children (unethical, not legal but yes it still happens) - respond with a question instead. "Are you asking me about my time management?" Take control of the situation confidently.
- if a potential employer presses you for how much you are currently earning (low, I know), take control and instead propose that it’s really important that you get to know each other first. Have a back up plan. In case they don't accept your initial response, plan with a ballpark response with what you'd like to earn, but reiterate that you're keen to work out if you're the right fit first.
- When asked if you have questions, make sure that you are prepared with questions about the performance of the organisation over all - reference the annual report, recent media, the departmental links to the strategic agenda. Ask questions that position you as someone who has done their homework, as confident and who sees the bigger picture. Take control of that perception.
Let's not confuse less willing to compete with unambitious
You've probably heard the myth that women aren't as ambitious as men. I call bullsh*t on that. Yet it might have something to do with this bias towards less competitiveness.
What I have found is a bunch of research that indicates that while men tend to correlate success and ambition with financial gain, women also want to know that we're being heard and making a difference. And our perception might just be that it's harder to be heard and harder to make a difference in more competitive environments.
The trifecta - you should be so lucky
So my ambition for you should be so lucky to get the trifecta - whether you're a man or a woman. I'd like you to be remunerated well for the results you help to deliver, to have a voice in the organisation, plus make a bigger difference every single day you turn up. But you're going to have to Step Up, Speak Out and Take Charge in order to do that.
Vive la révolution! #ambitionrevolution #feminineambition #LookOutCSuiteHereSheComes
- I am the creator of The Ambition Revolution – the science and art of amping smart and savvy.
- I mentor busy professionals to ensure they remain strategic, agile and focused on the bigger game.
- I also work with organisations who are trying to increase the profile of women in leadership, but struggling to do so
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