The researchers from Harvard Business School and the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania wanted to determine whether men or women were more likely to assess their performance at work positively.
In their series of experiments, they found that women consistently rated their performance less favorably than equally performing men.
In the study, 900 workers were asked to take a 20-question test from the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Batter, an exam used to determine whether someone is qualified to enrol in the US Armed Forces. Participants were asked how many questions they believed they answered correctly and to rate their overall performance.
“When communicating to potential employers, women systematically provide less favourable assessments of their own past performance and potential future ability than equally performing men,” the researchers wrote.
This gender-gap in self-promotion was notably persistent, and the researchers indicated that a gap in confidence did not explain the gap in self-promotion. Even after some women were told how well they scored on the test and how that compared to others’ (lesser) scores, they still assessed themselves more poorly than men.
“The gap is not a function of the gender gap in confidence; we find that it persists when participants are perfectly informed of their absolute and relative performance on the relevant task,” the authors wrote.
Women were also more likely to rate themselves more poorly than men regardless of whether a potential employer was going to see their test results of their self-assessment.
Researchers also performed additional tests that ruled out the possibility men were more inclined to inflate a self-assessment because of incentives such as higher pay.
Whatever the reasoning behind this startling gender gap in self-promotion, it’s clear that this can have major impacts on women’s careers. As noted in the research, it’s common to be asked to rate your own skills when interviewing for jobs and in performance reviews.
Women’s reluctance to self-promote at work can also have serious ripple effects, particularly into other gender gap areas, including salary and education.