Overcoming the Confidence Gap for Women

Recent studies show that women rate better than men in certain leadership qualities, but the number of women in leadership roles is slow to change

The most obvious obstacle to the rise of women in leadership roles is the degree to which male-dominated corporate cultures still reward long work hours. As Prof. Robin J. Ely of Harvard Business School and her colleagues reported recently, men often feel compelled to sacrifice their families to advance their careers, while many women feel that the cost to their families is too great to pay. Even when women choose to pursue their careers, organizations continue to devalue or undervalue the range of leadership skills they often bring to the table.

In addition, as Sheryl Sandberg has pointed out, women often unwittingly undermine themselves. The event at which I met Ms. Doughtie this week was a conference on women’s leadership tied to a Ladies Professional Golf Association tournament, both sponsored by KPMG. Ms. Doughtie’s talk was a summary of the findings in a study that the firm commissioned about women’s attitudes toward leadership.

Nearly two-thirds of the 3,000 professional and college-age women in the KPMG study expressed a desire to someday become senior leaders. Only 40 percent were consistently able to envision themselves as leaders. While men often overvalue their strengths, women too frequently undervalue theirs. Call it a continuing confidence gap.



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