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Confidence: women's last hurdle to making it to the boardroom

Women working at their full potential could add up to $28 trillion to the global GDP by 2025. Yet, women don’t even make up half of the global workforce.

Apurva Purohit
23rd Mar 2019
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Confidence gap?

Women possess most of the characteristics of a good leader. This is a fact. They are more democratic and participative, possess effective problem-solving capabilities, empathy, and ethics, and tend to be great team-players, motivators, and role models.


In America, only 5 percent CEOs are women and according to the World Economic Forum, only 5 percent of the richest billionaires are women, 6 percent of S&P 500 companies have women CEOs and only 20 percent of Fortune 500 board members are women. In India, as on October 31, 2017, only about 15 percent directorship positions in NSE-listed companies were occupied by women.


When you compare both these sets of information, something doesn’t add up, right? Because if we have most of the qualities of a good leader, why are the number of women in the higher echelons of power so dismal?


Well, yes there is patriarchy, especially for a country like India where the number of women in the workforce stands at a dismal 24.39 percent anyway, according to World Bank data from September 2018, but let’s take the example of America. To cite the World Economic Forum again, women make up 47 percent of the workforce but the numbers mentioned above, even for America, clearly tell a different story.


So, what else is at play here? Different studies, instances and findings point towards the inherent confidence gap between men and women and it is this lack of confidence, which is costing women leadership positions.


Some examples of how this lack of confidence manifests itself.


● In a review of personnel records at Hewlett-Packard, women working at the company applied for a promotion only when they believed they met 100 percent of the qualifications listed for the job. Men, on the other hand, were happy to apply when they thought they could meet 60 percent. 


● Women have a penchant for assuming the blame when things go wrong while crediting circumstance - or other people - for their successes. Men do the opposite. When women get low grades in a difficult class, they blame themselves while men acknowledge the difficulty level of the module and are less hard on themselves. This is a classic example of ‘internal attribution’ vs ‘external attribution’, something catastrophically debilitating to the self-esteem of women. 


● Women also undervalue themselves and their competence when asked to assess their performance. Men evaluate themselves in a much better light. In reality, their performances don’t differ significantly. Women also tend to downplay their successes whereas men are naturally predisposed towards a fair amount of chest-thumping.


In fact, the more senior a woman is, the more she makes a conscious effort to downplay her eloquence - the reverse of how most men handle power.


To quote a 2014 report by McKinsey & Company, “female executives are much less certain they will reach the top: 69 percent of mid-level or senior women said they are confident they will succeed in reaching a top-management position, compared with 83 percent of their male peers.”


You get the point.



Also read: YourStory’s deep-dive analysis of the decline in participation of Indian women in workforce and its resulting economic impact



So, what should you do to tackle this confidence gap if you are a woman poised to move from mid-management to senior?


Firstly, understand the extent of the value you bring to the table. According to an analysis of 2,400 global companies by Credit Suisse, organisations with at least one woman director yielded a higher return on equity and higher net income growth than those that did not have any. Boards with a higher than average percentage of women outperformed those with fewer than average by 36 percent.


Secondly, have a mentor from whom you can imbibe positive attributes, whose advice you can channel and whose mistakes serve as your handy notebook of ‘Don’ts’. Lastly, make yourself visible and heard – your own organisation, industry forums, and board rooms - heck even your own dinner table. Raise your hand to speak up!


Step out of your comfort zones and project yourself to others because remember, from a perception point of view, those who display more confidence than competence accrue stronger admiration from others and are awarded a higher social status. In the case of women, their competence is not a matter of concern and thankfully, confidence can be cultivated. It’s just a matter of time.


On that note, let me leave you with a McKinsey estimate that states women working at their “full potential” could add up to $28 trillion to the annual global GDP by 2025. Imagine being the key to unlocking THAT much global wealth? Priceless, right? 


(Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of YourStory.) 


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