The idea that woman apply for a job only when they believe they meet 100% of the qualifications, while men apply when they meet at least 60% has been circulating for a few years already, after Hewlett Packard released an internal research about women working at their company who apply for internal promotions. But is it really the case, or is it perhaps just another myth that is contradicted by other, more recent research?

The theory of the ‘confidence gap’ holds that women feel less self-assured in their own abilities than men. Indeed, it is shocking how many women we meet within our community, who still struggle with their confidence during their job search. But there are more variables than that: “women might feel really confident, it’s just that observers around them don’t see it”. Could that be the true problem, making the lack of confidence of most women a myth?

Why might women not apply?

Based on a survey, Women’s Leadership coach Tara Sophie Mohr established the three barriers in the Harvard Business Review (HBR). 

Firstly, people tend to believe that a hiring process is mainly about required qualifications. Yet it is more than that, because the process of hiring is interdisciplinary. Your grades don’t define you! You are more than that.

Secondly, most of the women are following guidelines. They’ve been socialized to follow certain rules. Think about it. For instance, girls in high school tend to score higher grades and boys demand more attention in the classroom. A second example: compare the content of your etui with one of your male friends (if they even have one). It is time to colour outside the lines with all your pastel markers and cut some corners! 

Last but not least… Most of the females ascribe failure to internal conditions in comparison to a male. Consequently? The fear of failure is too high in comparison to the probability of getting the job. But, what is the worst that could happen? You are not going to die.

Do you recognize this issue personally? We do and you are not alone! So, we conducted a small survey in our community.

Our findings:

  • More than 85% of the women didn’t apply for a job, because they didn’t meet all the qualifications
  • The primary reason is they think that they would probably have been rejected anyway
  • The above average grades and previous internships/ work experience are the most scary
  • 20% of the respondents replied using words as “Excellent” and “Above average” withhold them from applying

The consequence? Women often don’t apply as they seem to be following the guidelines they are accustomed to.

If indeed, you notice that you don’t meet 100% of the requirements, apply anyway! It’s just a guideline. At the same time, companies should be aware that in order to attract more female employees they should be rethinking their job descriptions and recruitment marketing. Our tip: Skip words like “Excellent” “Above average” and focus on the question “What are we really looking for?”. Of course everyone wants to hire the top students, but do they really need to meet the list of 20 requirements? Of course not.

A more nuanced perspective

So… what is the absolute truth? Like many other debates and societal issues, there are multiple sides. While it might be true that women apply less to jobs than men when they don’t meet all the requirements, the acute lack of confidence in women has been disproven in more recent studies. Research shows no signs of a female modesty effect – “women rate themselves no lower than their male counterparts in leadership-related dimensions“. Moreover, studies aren’t finding any consistent gender differences when it comes to self-reported self-confidence.

Interesting to point is that the problem might lay in the appearance of self-confidence. In a study by Mayo, Karelaia & Guillen, it was found that women’s self-reported confidence was often different from the extent to which others perceive a woman as self-confident. They found that even “among similarly high-performing workers, appearing self-confident did not translate into influence equally for men and women. For women, but not for men, influence was closely tied to perceptions of warmth – how caring and prosocial they seemed. Moreover, women’s self-reported confidence did not correlate with how confident these women appeared to others”. Therefore, the benefits and appearance of self-confidence are gendered, putting woman at a disadvantage. Women are not necessarily struggling with self-confidence problems, but with the failure of the organisations and systems they are part of to create a gender-equal workplace in which double standards are not tolerated.

So, let’s encourage companies to implement changes in their job requirements, recruitment marketing, as well as work culture. The glass ceiling is to be broken by women, but they cannot do so without an environment that provides them with the same resources, opportunities and rewards that men are provided with.