Too Few Women Leaders Part III

The next questions from my interview with the local chamber magazine:


Why do women undervalue their work and their intelligence?

We engage in a lot of negative self talk and I think men aren’t as prone to do this. Sheryl tells a funny story about how her brother, a girlfriend of hers and she took a course in college and how her girlfriend and she went to most of the classes, read most of the books and how her brother went to few classes and read one of the books. When it came to the final exam he needed tutoring the night before, but walking out of the exam, he thought he aced it, and the girls thought they bombed. It’s a classic example and pretty typical of the way I see men and women thinking. Plus our society and workplaces punish women for behaving outside the boundaries of what is deemed acceptable. Typically competitive, assertive behavior is frowned upon coming from women and rewarded coming from men. That’s what gets played out in the Heidi Roizen case. The only word in the case study that was changed between two groups reading it and responding to questions was Heidi was changed to Howard. Heidi is a successful venture capitalist from the Silicon Valley. When Heidi was Heidi in the case, the groups weren’t sure how they felt about her as a person. When Heidi was Howard, they liked him…wanted to hang out with him, get a beer with him. Not so much with Heidi. Women learn this lesson early and are conditioned to behave differently.

I shared with the interviewer a personal story about when I was a Resident Assistant (RA) in college. When I first started the job, I tried behaving the way my boyfriend, also an RA with two terms more experience than me, behaved. He was a 6’4” imposing guy with a strong disciplinarian approach, and he had been very successful. Big mistake. I was absolutely hated my first year. My senior year, I moved dorm houses, approached the job with a balance of kindness and friendly assertiveness and was measurably more successful in my evaluations and outcomes. Voila–we have to behave differently to achieve similar success outcomes.

There’s also some interesting research in the book Women Don’t Ask. In a pay allocation study, men and women were instructed to work on a task until they had “earned” four dollars. Although women worked longer and harder than men in the private unobserved condition (22% longer), they worked even longer if the amount of time they worked was monitored by the experimenter (52% longer than men). Men did not work longer when they were observed. This tells us that women have learned that they must pay more attention than men to the impressions they make on others, presumably because they fear the penalties for counter-stereotypical behavior.

Why don’t women negeotiate for themselves?

Again this research is taken from the book, Woman Don’t Ask. The whole book focuses on gender negotiating tendencies, and I encourage women to read it. As a broad generalization, we are told and believe that if we work hard, our efforts will get recognized, while men aren’t afraid to proactively seek what they want. The book starts with research that has been done about starting salaries for men and women coming out of school. In the specific research cited, the starting salaries for men were 7.6% higher because only 7% of the female students had negotiated but 57% of the men had asked for more money. Interestingly, of those who negotiated, they were able to raise their salaries by 7.4% almost the exact difference in the pay or $4,053. The book goes on to cite the following reasons we don’t ask:

1. We expect less

2. Women historically have been in “undervalued” occupations; that is “undervalued by society”

3. Again, historically, boys labored for money and girls labored for love

4. We historically compare ourselves to the wrong people when figuring out whether we’re paid enough; i.e. men compare themselves to other men while women compare themselves to other women

5. Gender roles—it’s widely believed that women tend to be “communal” or less concerned with their own needs and more focused on the welfare of others. Men, in contrast, are thought to be “agentic” an awkward term that means focused on their own aims and interests and more likely to act independent of others’ needs or desires. In common language, the author says, women are thought to be more “other-oriented” and men are thought to be more “self-oriented.” Being “other-oriented” we accept what someone is willing to pay us and are just glad we have a job, where men feel they are worth more.

Why do women attribute their success to outside factors instead of their own hard work?

Simple answer, again it’s our “others focus” versus “self-focus.”

Gender assimilation and differentiation of outcomes starts right out of the womb. The research is eye opening. Peggy Orenstein, in her book Schoolgirls: Young Women, Self- Esteem, and the Confidence Gap, describes observing a sixth grade classroom in which the teacher asked her students to think about how their lives would be different if they’d been born the opposite gender. Boys lists included:

1. I’d have to help my mom cook

2. I’d have to stand around at recess instead of getting to play basketball

3. I’d worry about getting pregnant

Girls lists included:

1. I could stay out later

2. I’d get to play more sports

3. I wouldn’t care how I look or if my clothes matched

Almost all the boys observations about gender swapping involve disparaging “have to’s” whereas the girs seem wistful with longing. By sixth grade, it is clear that both girls and boys have learned to equate maleness with opportunity and femininity with constraint.


And then there’s this research:  Management Professor Lisa Barron carried out detailed discussion interviews with business students who categorized themselves in one of two groups:

1. The first group assumed that they determined their own worth and that it was up to them to make sure the company paid them what they were worth.

2. The second group felt that their worth was determined by what the company would pay them.

In a striking disparity, 85% of the male participants but only 17% of the women in the study fell into the first group. In direct contrast, only 15% of the men, but 83% of the women fell into the second group, the group that believed their worth was determined by others. Clearly the perspective held by most of the men reveals their confidence in their own talents as well as their strong belief that it is their responsibility to make sure that they get what they deserve (they believe that they can exert some control over what they are paid). The perspective held by most of the women reveals their expectation that others will decide what they are worth and determine what they are offered (they assume they have no control over what they are paid).


Let’s continue the dialogue.  What do you think about these questions?  What has been your experience?

CATEGORY: All Posts, Lessons Learned, SWOG Questions


Learning is my passion and life is my classroom of lessons I experience along the way.

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