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Women's Performance: A Perception Gap?

Posted by: Jena McGregor on August 10, 2009

Women may think they’re really good at their jobs, but they tend to suspect others don’t see it that way.

At least that’s the finding of a study being presented at the Academy of Management conference on Aug. 11 by assistant professor Scott Taylor of the University of New Mexico’s business school. Taylor asked 251 managers—most of them MBA program graduates—to rate their own leadership qualities and then predict how others would grade them in a separate, 360-degree review.

The result? While the men slightly overestimated the scores their bosses and others gave them (by 0.5%), women underestimated their review scores by an average 11%. This isn’t explained by a confidence gap, Taylor says. With an average 17 years’ work experience, the men and women rated themselves about equally high on leadership traits and performance. Some of the perception gap, Taylor says, may be due to getting less feedback or be “a carryover from years of women thinking that to be appreciated they had to work twice as hard as men.”

So what kind of reviews did the women in the study get from others? On leadership criteria they scored an average 4.02 out of 5. The men averaged 3.86.

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Reader Comments


August 10, 2009 09:32 PM

That is so true about women that although they know they do a good job, they tend to underestimate how people will rate them. This same issue comes up in performance reviews and hiring processes which result in the disparity in wages between men and women. Since women underrate people's perception of them, they do not negotiate up for better sign on salaries or raises and end up settling for what is offered even if they feel they are worth more.

Sally in Chicago

August 10, 2009 10:06 PM

Women still have a low-esteem image esp. when we work around men. Men make us seem stupid, and we never give ourselves enough credit for doing a lot with a little. I often think about multi-tasking in the office. We can do it, and it wears us out, but we do it. Men find it hard to multi-task although they're forced into that role.

And I agree we underestimate our value and our skills.

Denise Lee Yohn

August 11, 2009 10:47 AM

this reminds me of some advice i received awhile ago which went something like, "don't de-value your accomplishments and contributions by attributing them to hard work" -- the point being that it's ok to acknowledge that i'm smart and talented -- i suspect no one ever had to give a male this advice...

Denise Lee Yohn

August 11, 2009 10:48 AM

this reminds me of some advice i received awhile ago which went something like, "don't de-value your accomplishments and contributions by attributing them to hard work" -- the point being that it's ok to acknowledge that i'm smart and talented -- i suspect no one ever had to give a male this advice...


August 11, 2009 03:40 PM

I feel that the "glass ceiling" exists because if you do a great job, men feel threatened and devalue the positive results a woman has accomplished.

If those same men happen to be in a position of a supervisor or boss, and review the quality of a woman's work performance, the value of that performance is reduced so that they do not feel threatened or upstaged.

I have experienced this over and over again and have had this perception confirmed in "confidential" exit interviews by those bosses. "You know you really did a great job but I couldn't let you look better than me, could I?"

Evelyn Bush

August 12, 2009 12:43 PM

We underestimate the learned experiences and socialization that women bring into the workforce. The failure to do so results in a work environment that promotes the nature of men(dominating the power base) versus the nurture of women(talents)that go unrecognized.

Nelson Leith

August 15, 2009 08:32 PM

"years of women thinking that to be appreciated they had to work twice as hard as men.”

In other words, as they were integrated into the workforce over the past half century, women were conditioned by misandrist feminist political biases against men, rather than being taught how to accurately interpret and measure workplace feedback.

What this study demonstrates is that much (but not all) workplace oppression of women is internal and therefore imaginary. This is not because women are irrational, but because the interpretive models they've been taught are irrational. Women need to abandon these absurd prejudices if they want to be and feel more successful at work.

Feminist studies like this stop at the self-reported assessment ("women report they are appreciated less than men do") and simply present this data as a conclusion without any scientific rigor. If only more studies bothered to compare self-reported assessments with valid, objective measurements, we might understand sex dynamics in the workplace better than "men bad, women victims."

Nelson Leith

August 15, 2009 08:47 PM

Shawn-Noel, the real 'glass ceiling' is not about keeping women --or racial minorities-- down. It's about keeping a traditional power elite in, and therefore even white men who are not born into the overclass (middle-class and above) can find themselves subject to it.

Social networking, alumni loyalties, and other mechanisms of what I like to call "corruption lite" exclude everyone who has not been a traditional part of the power structure, not just women and non-whites.

Granted, poor white men can more easily "pass" than women or racial minorities --this is an undeniable advantage-- but that incidental fact should not blind us to the true nature of the problem.

Racial and sexual discrimination are merely symptoms that poor white men can dodge by bypassing the vectors of the underlying disease. The disease itself is unmeritocratic, identity-based placement and promotion driven by unchecked social instincts and their attendant cognitive biases.

The solution is not in paying closer attention to gender or race. The solution is in an unbending ethical insistence on what Jefferson called the "natural aristocracy of virtue and talents." All forms of workplace networking, cronyism, nepotism, and unconscious social biasing must be diligently blocked from selection processes.


August 15, 2009 11:04 PM

I saw a study not long ago that said the negotiation issue is a weird one. Essentially, both men and women frown upon women negotiating their salaries even just to a higher half of the ballpark the employer quoted.
They are more or less expected to take the number they are offered versus negotiating higher. If they do negotiate higher, the study said that it created bad blood within the companies and tended to equal a shorter term of employment. This was in the Washington Post if anyone is curious.
I've experienced this myself, but cannot reliably attribute the issue to the negotiation alone as much as differences in pay within the specialty I work in versus standards of pay within tech consulting companies.

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How can you manage smarter? BusinessWeek writers Nanette Byrnes, Patricia O’Connell, Emily Thornton, Matthew Boyle, Michelle Conlin and Diane Brady synthesize insights from the brightest business thinkers, critique the latest management trends, and comment on leaders in the news.

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