Natural overconfidence in men regarding past performances leads to dominance of male leadership in organisations and thus a gender gap in the C-suite, a new study has suggested.
A study conducted by Columbia Business School’s Prof. Ernesto Reuben and team has revealed that men’s honest overconfidence and not overt discrimination may play an important role in male domination of the C-suite.
The experimental design allowed the researchers to isolate the effect of gender differences on women leadership. The experiment consisted of two parts. The study first asked MBA students to complete a set of math problems; both men and women performed about the same.
One year later, the researchers brought back the same students, asking them to recall their previous years’ performance.
The researchers found that when they compared actual with recalled performance, most participants overestimated their performance — a tendency documented in different forms in different studies.
The major difference was that men consistently rated their past performance about 30 percent higher than it really was. Women, on the other hand, consistently rated their past performance only about 15 percent higher than it actually was.
Next, the researchers asked participants to estimate their performance on a task if chosen to represent a group, and were then divided into groups to complete the same math problem.
The results revealed that, on average, both men and women were willing to lie about their performance.
When participants had an incentive to lie, they lied more, and the incidence of lying increased as the monetary award for being chosen as leader increased. While women kept pace with men on how frequently they lied, women did not exaggerate their performance to the same degree.
As a result, women were selected 1/3 less often than their abilities would otherwise indicate. In other words, while there is no gender differential when it comes to lying, there is a significant gender differential when it comes to ‘honest’ overconfidence.
The study has been published in the Journal of Economic Behavior and Organization and Columbia Business School’s Ideas at Work.