What’s wrong with being confident?

By Joey Konrad

When you think about your getting your first job, do you often ask yourself what’s next? You know, what’s involved in creating an actual career?

There’s a wide variety of resources available when it comes to the conversation of job interviews and getting started in a career, but there is simply a much smaller discussion out there for negotiating salaries or promotions within your career field, which is just as vital to your career progress.

Besides lack of experience with this discussion, women at work have an additional hurdle of overcoming gender barriers that have employers promoting women by performance, while those same employers are promoting male coworkers based on potential.

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The good news is these barriers are not immovable objects, and can be worked around with a little practice. In 2013, Anett Grant and Amanda Taylor video-recorded interviews of men and women in leadership positions within Fortune 50 companies, and generated a list of strategies for women use to resist sexist attitudes or self-doubt in the workplace and promotional conversations.

They found  that women  constantly self-regulate when talking about their potential and their ideas.  As a result, they hesitate in interviews when responding to questions, which can signal lack of confidence. The men studied would also hesitate—but for less time, and responded confidently to questions asked. Grant and Taylor recommend that women should work on shutting off that regulating voice in their heads, and start responses strong and confident, even at the expense of using “filler words”. Additionally, structuring answers and practicing responses beforehand helps to quiet that regulating voice so you can truly speak your mind.

Grant and Taylor also noted that there was a gender gap in keeping responses succinct. Women would often have longer responses because of multiple hesitations and be perceived as less direct. In fact, on average, women’s answers were longer by almost 30 seconds. The researchers point out that’s enough time for Usain Bolt to win gold in the 100 meter dash—twice.

Further, the researchers argued that women discuss achievement and personal success in abstract terms, which isn’t helpful when communicating with higher-ups that are familiar with traditional promotional language. Taking careful note about the work you have contributed, or creating explicit lists of projects and statistical impacts (i.e. monetary gains) to take credit for provides a much more effective response.

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Lastly, through this study Grant and Taylor found that communication styles between genders were different.  Men were significantly more likely to use first-person nouns like “I” when discussing achievements, while women often used nondescript pronouns like “we.” Using  “I”, “my”, and “mines” show your actual contributions much more effectively.

Does this seem a little overwhelming? You’re not alone. Try making these changes in everyday speech so that you can avoid having to filter them out in a job interview or when asking for a promotion, which would only create more hesitations in your speech.

Self-promotion is not a random ability that some people have while others are just out of luck; it is a skill that can be learned, practiced, and deployed successfully. Beyond the strategies here, look to InformHer staff writer Rebekah Peterson’s article on modesty for more tips!

Endless Cycle

By Erika Harrington

When it comes to wage gaps, and the success of professional women, it’s easy to play the blame game. “It’s hyper-masculinity in the business world that makes work a toxic environment for women.” “It’s that women choose to have children and stay home with the family.” “Men are threatened by strong women.” “Women’s hormones make them too emotional to make big decisions.”

Enough.

The fact of the matter is that no one’s to blame, and yet we’re all to blame. Confused? Read on.

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There are decades worth of elaborate research on the presence of (and lack thereof) women in professional executive positions. And with all this research comes a Frito-Lay’s Variety pack of conclusions on who’s at fault for the issue. Trying to get through this chaos of explanations and figure out what’s really going on would be a major headache. Lucky for us, Ellen Ernst Kossek, Rong Su, Lusi Wu bore the burden for us. They basically went through the many (and I mean many) studies that have been done on the topic and pulled out some themes so the rest of us can get the overview.

“However, simply because women spend more energy on their families than men, this doesn’t mean that women want to  spend more energy on their families than their job.”

They found that here are many different factors that keep women from executive suites and we can all do a little more to make sure representation improves in board rooms.

Factors that keep top leadership positions from being equal are things like individual decisions of women, organizational climates, and role expectations. While our culture expects more of  women when it comes to home responsibilities and family, women also tend to opt out of work to spend more time with children than men. However, simply because women spend more energy on their families than men, this doesn’t mean that women want to  spend more energy on their families than their job.

This is why the climate of organizations also contributes to gender inequalities. The research indicates that many employers and organizations don’t offer helpful work-life balance resources. Child care options that promote flexibility and better paid leave will help women to meet the professional goals that are important to them. It also crucial to remember that work-life balance isn’t a women’s issue, and describing it as one perpetuates stereotypes. The professional world needs to make sure work-life balance resources are offered to men and known about by men. This will promote a culture in which men share home responsibilities and are given the chance to spend the time with their families that they may have not been able to enjoy before.

Employers need to be more conscious of their practices that are making it difficult for women to thrive. This can be done using anonymous surveys, hiring an organizational change specialist, hosting a focus group, and more—anything that encourages employees to report what they’d actually need to succeed with their organization.

Organizations can also help be more inclusive by making the workplace an environment that supports female identities. Kossek, Su, and Wu found that research indicates women tend to choose fields that allow them to work with people instead of fields that force them to compete against people. Instead of these fields arguing that women should adapt to competitive natures of the job, they should be more open to potential benefits of collaboration in the field—because finding life-saving cures in the STEM field or growing a multi-million corporation doesn’t have to have a ‘Hunger Games’-esque climate.

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Employers also need to adjust what they define as commitment to work. Research again suggest that long hours and face-to-face work are valued over flexibility and telecommuting. But the latter allows employees to have better work-life balance and should be seen as just as hard working. To be fair, we could chalk this up to old assumptions about the way things “ought to be”—but these old assumptions can often be gendered. We all—men and women—need to recognize that we buy into these assumptions, we uphold stereotypes and create bias. Acknowledge it and fight any knee-jerk reactions to perpetuate it.

Okay, so that may have seemed like a long “brief” overview. I warned you that looking at the many causes of the lack of women at the top was going to be tough. But what isn’t tough is making the decision to address these problems. Taking the simple steps mentioned before can make all the difference.

Addressing all the factors of this issue can be messy but doing it is the only way to clean up the gender gap. We are all capable of taking at least minor steps to address bias in the boardroom, and it starts with you.