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In my capacity as the Chief Cultural Officer of a fast-growing IT company, I interviewed most of the candidates before they were offered a job. As we grew from 300 to 1800 people over the course of eight years, it must have been at least one thousand interviews, maybe more.

Early on I discovered that there was a distinct difference between the interviews I had with women and those that I had with men, and the more interviews I had, the stronger the pattern became.

The pattern was this: While men tended to exaggerate their own skills, competences and experiences during interviews, women did the exact opposite.

With the men I realised it might be wise to subtract about 10-20% from what they told me in the interview; maybe less if they were engineers, a lot more if they were sales. With women, however, regardless of what kind of role they applied for, I often had to remind them that they were supposed to convince me why they should have the job, not give me all the reasons why they shouldn’t. I ended up assuming they were a lot more skilled and competent than they told me, and when hired that usually turned out to be the case.

Then, a few years after they were hired, I discovered that men, in general, had a much faster career progression than the women. I invited a group of women for lunch and asked them why none of them had applied for any of the vacant manager positions. I thought many of them would be excellent at it. What one of them said, took me by surprise: “I don’t see many other women in manager positions, and if none of the other qualified women are promoted, why should I be?” The others seemed to agree with that argument.

Based on that lunch conversation two things became clear to me; one was that the women seemed to wait for someone to promote them instead of promoting themselves for a job. The second was that they were in desperate need of some female role models. Role models set a standard and make it easier for others to follow. When there are none, it takes both imagination and courage to go first, and not everyone feel comfortable about doing that. That doesn’t make them less qualified for a promotion, just much less likely to get it.

The men, however, seemed to have no problem with suggesting themselves for jobs they were not really qualified for. With an abundance of male role models who had done the same, they naturally thought: “If them, why not me?” Their attitudes stood in stark contrast to the women’s “If not them, why me?”

Cross-cultural communication

 

When I asked the women what was holding them back from promoting themselves for new roles, they typically said things like: “I need some more experience first” “I’m not sure if I’m up for the challenge yet” and “What if I fail?”.

I rarely heard any of these arguments from men. They usually said “yes”, “no” or “maybe”, but never “not yet”.

Historically in the workplace, there has been a tendency for women to self-evaluate themselves as less competent, while men tend to overrate themselves in their competencies. Research shows, however, that the reality is often the opposite. If more men acted like women in employing their emotional and social competencies, they would be substantially and distinctly more effective in their work. (Professor Richard Boyatzis, Ph.D, Case Western Reserve University.)

The lack of women in senior and executive positions is becoming a serious challenge for a lot of companies, a challenge that will only grow in the digital age. According to World Economic Forum we are about to enter the 4th Industrial Revolution where our human abilities, our “soft” skills, are the qualities that will give us an advantage over robots and machines. Emotional intelligence, empathy, intuition, cognitive flexibility, service orientation, collaborating, creativity and people management are some of the skills most needed in the future of work; qualities that many women possess naturally.

Recently, Korn Ferry Institute interviewed 57 women CEO’s to see how they differ from their male peers:

“One thing that struck us during the research on women CEO’s was how closely their traits aligned with those of the modern leaders boards are now seeking: flexible, courageous and able to successfully navigate uncertainty and ambiguity in a constantly shifting environment” (Evelyn Orr, Chief Operation Office, Korn Ferry Institute)

The case for more women in leadership roles is given, but how to get there is a whole different discussion, a topic I will continue exploring in my next blog. I certainly have some thoughts, and I would welcome any insight and ideas any of you out there might want to share with me. Leave a comment and I will make sure to notify you as the discussion continues.

Until next time…

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