She Said, He Said … It Better

Men sing their praises in the workplace better and louder than women, according to this new study by researchers from several business schools, including Columbia University’s. (The PDF download link is at the bottom of the study’s release.)

Researchers say this piece of research may offer yet another reason for the shortage of women in executive and board positions. They just don’t toot their horns enough. And we’re not talking fabrication here, just exaggeration.

This release about the study quotes Vickie Milazzo, author of Wicked Success Is Inside Every Woman, saying exaggeration “doesn’t mean men lie during job interviews or performance reviews — but it does mean they exhibit a lot more confidence in workplace situations. They’re not afraid to sing their own praises.”

“It’s not about lying or over-exaggerating,” she says. “It’s about ultra-positioning. Clearly, we females need to take a page from the male playbook and make sure that we’re getting the recognition and credit we’ve earned. If you still have doubts, consider that announcing your accomplishments validates the investments others have made in you. Your boss, for example, wants to know that she bet on a winner when she hired you.”

Milazzo even offers up some examples of how women and men differ in work situations. They’re definitely worth looking at.

Ernesto Reuben, assistant professor at the Columbia Business School and a lead researcher, says the gender difference uncovered in his study is hard to tackle.

“It almost calls for direct intervention because men’s overconfidence is honest,” he says. “It’s not just a matter of telling men not to lie — because they honestly believe their performance is 30 percent better than it really is. Similarly, it’s not as if you can simply tell women they should inflate their own sense of overconfidence to be on par with that of men.”

He says recruiters should consider taking male candidates’ claims about past performance with a grain of salt. Employers who aren’t aware of the tendency for men to unconsciously inflate their performance could mistake that overconfidence for true performance, and overlook better female candidates. “It calls for a bit more sophistication on the part of hiring committees and recruiters,” he says, “to understand there are gender differences in how people evaluate themselves.”

So what’s the takeaway for HR professionals? Well, for the ones who are female, I’m imagining there might be some personal eye-openers, like there were for me. In general, maybe some lunch-and-learns, perhaps? For both genders? The added enlightenment — and possible encouragement on the part of female employees — couldn’t hurt overall corporate performance, I’m thinking.