Research

Women ‘need to be confident and caring to get ahead’

25 Jul 2017 By PM Editorial

Study finds women need to demonstrate ‘pro-social’ attitudes, as well as confidence, to climb the career ladder

Women at work might want to press pause on asking whether they can have it all – and start wondering if they need to be it all instead, according to new research.

The study, which was led by Laura Guillén, assistant professor of organisational behaviour at ESMT Berlin business school, and involved academics from IE Business School and INSEAD, revealed that women must demonstrate not only confidence but also so-called ‘pro social’ attributes, such as being caring, if they want to climb the career ladder. By contrast, men only need to show self-confidence to achieve similar success.

The research, which involved 236 engineers, also found that upper management felt both high-performing men and women were highly self-confident, but women were not rewarded as much as men for possessing this personality trait.

“There are a number of studies that have shown that, when women display behaviours consistent with being ambitious, it affects them negatively,” says Guillén. “In other words, they are not liked. Our research shows that women currently need to show pro-social orientation to counterbalance this negative effect – something men do not need to do to get ahead.”

Guillén says it’s understandable that bosses want to make sure their workplaces are friendly and encouraging pro-social behaviours is an effective way to do this, but stresses that they need to treat men and women “equally”.

She adds: “Making sure this happens should not be solely women’s responsibility – organisations need to take concrete steps to promote it actively.”

People driven by prestige prefer being small fish

Some people might feel that getting your voice heard is easier when you’re a big fish in a small pond. However, a study from the University of Michigan has discovered that those who have been raised to believe prestige is important are more likely to opt for a business with a big reputation, even if they are less likely to make a splash there.

Lead author Kaidi Wu and her team asked Chinese and US adults if they would rather go to a top 10 ranked college and receive below-average grades, or go to a top 100 ranked college and receive above-average grades. Chinese people were more likely (58 per cent) than Americans (29 per cent) to choose to go the higher ranked school.

When asked to explain their choice, the Chinese participants were also more likely to say they were motivated by the prestigious standing of the school. Although the researchers focused on educational options in their study, Wu notes that the same sort of decision-making applies when people choose where to look for a job or an internship.

Stronger employer branding may help in this case. In a 2015 Universum study of 2,000 senior executives in multinationals, 60 per cent of firms saw the topic as so strategically important it was primarily the responsibility of the CEO, while 40 per cent expected it to be crucial to recruitment within the next five years.

‘Be yourself’ is the best advice for jobseekers

Nervous job hunters are often told to be themselves before heading off to a big interview. And research has revealed that those well-meaning friends and family members could be on to something.

The research – by academics at Bocconi University, University College London, the Hong Kong Polytechnic University and London Business School – found that those candidates who made an effort to present themselves as they truly are (a tactic known as ‘self verifying’) made a better impression on interviewers.

“There is a pressure to perform in job interviews, but trying to portray a particular image and other ‘impression management’ tactics do not lead to universally positive outcomes for candidates,” says Dan Cable, professor of organisational behaviour at London Business School. “In fact, they can often backfire. Our research proves that if you are a high-quality candidate for the job, just being yourself can be a better route to success.” Celia Moore of Bocconi University adds: “Interviewers perceive an overly polished self-representation as inauthentic and potentially misrepresentative.”

However, there is a catch – self-verifying only worked for high-quality candidates. Those who did not otherwise make the grade were actually worse off when they tried being themselves.

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