Published September 06, 2012
Could bragging be the key to getting a promotion at work? New research reveals that women's tendency to downplay their successes could be holding them back at work.
The research focused on how leaders were chosen in a group.
The researchers took MBA students, divided them into groups and examined how leaders were chosen from those groups. The researchers hoped to have leaders chosen based on experience from a prior experiment.
"Barring any explicit discrimination against women — which would be unlikely in an experiment with university students — groups should aim to select their most talented individual irrespective of gender," said Paola Sapienza, a professor of finance at the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University.
That, however, was not what happened. Women were selected less frequently than they should have been based how they performed in the prior experiment. Gender discrimination was not the reason, though. Instead, the research found that men were more willing to overstate their own ability, which, in turn, led to their selection as group leaders.
"The fact that men tend to overstate, that’s not a surprise," Sapienza said. "But if everyone knows that, why don't they just say, 'If men say five, it must be three.' There is some discounting, but it’s very minimal."
Those results highlight an area where businesses have significant room for improvement. The researchers suggest that companies take into account that workers will brag, so the company can ensure that only the most qualified workers get the job, and not just the most boastful. This also means that companies should look to identify the biggest braggers in the company in order to be sure that the field is level for all workers.
Sapienza conducted the research with Ernesto Reuben, an assistant professor at Columbia University; Pedro Rey-Biel, an associate professor at the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona; and Luigi Zingales, a professor at the University of Chicago.
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