Interviews – How Can Women Get to the Top?

I love it when I come across a piece of research that supports what I have always believed, don’t you? (There is a word for this type of bias but in this case I didn’t do the research so am innocent of only seeing what I am looking for!)

Women and Job Interviews

In Women Ahead, one of my personal development courses for women I have a fairly light hearted exercise when I ask participants to think how the world of work would look if it were designed solely to benefit and suit women. The purpose of this exercise is to promote discussion and awareness of how we women are often working at a disadvantage compared to male colleagues.

Working practices we take as givens were designed and originated from one half of the population, men. Ergo, they suit them. It’s much more a matter of chance if it suits the other 50% of the population, women. Yet we are judged against those male yardsticks.

Doing Well at Interviews

One topic course participants often end up discussing is the interview process and most don’t like it at all; they find it unnecessarily adversarial and are not over comfortable with ‘bigging themselves’ up. (Have a look at my 3 Tips to Close the Gender Pay Gap for more on this). It’s also often one of the reasons women come to me for some coaching; they want an interview confidence boost beforehand (and I’m happy to say at time of writing 100% of women who have come to me for that type of coaching have gone onto get the job, but then they are a self selecting group who have made a conscious choice to invest in themselves and their career). I added that last point to buck the trend of women not being good at bigging themselves up!

Research into the Gender Competition Gap

Back to that research. It was carried out by a two academic economists, Jennifer Pate and Andrew Healy and published in the Economic Journal. They were looking at the gender competition gap, in brief, female reluctance to enter competitions (you only have to look at any serious type quiz show on TV –  always far fewer women entering).

They conducted an experiment in which the participants had to answer maths problems as quickly as possible. Participants in teams decided whether they wanted to be paid accordingly to the number of problems answered correctly or whether they wanted to enter a competition against three other teams. Individual participants decided whether they wanted to compete against three other individuals.

The results highlighted huge differences between the genders:

  • Even though men and women performed equally well on the task, 81% of men chose to compete as individuals compared with 28% of women
  • When participants competed in teams, the gender competition gap shrank by 31% to 22% with 67% of men choosing to enter the competition compared with 45% of women

Previous research has shown that a man is much more likely to choose to compete compared with a woman, even when the two are equally good at a given task.

Women Disadvantaged in Getting on the Board

As a consequence of this research the economists suggest that women are disadvantaged from getting to the top (only five women CEOs in the top 100 FTSE companies) and a different approach to recruitment needs to be taken (I know a lot of women cheering loudly at this).

They suggest a new way of encouraging qualified women to opt in, especially important as while eminently qualified women take themselves out of this competitive arena, much less qualified men opt in! That’s not good for the economy or society as a whole. And if we really did address this issue, how might the world of politics look? I’d venture to suggest, it would look significantly better!

Photo Credit: Daniela Corno


Posted on September 15th, 2011 by

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