Irish academic Dr Darren Thomas Baker recommends workplaces remove the word confidence from their lexicon because it is a gendered term.
Women’s career progression can work against them – whether they are doing well or performing poorly. That’s according to new research published in Harvard Business Review co-authored by an academic from University College Dublin (UCD).
Dr Darren Thomas Baker is a tenured assistant professor of business in society at UCD College of Business. He co-wrote the paper on how women’s career performance is seen by their colleagues alongside Dr Juliet Bourke of UNSW Business School, Australia.
The paper examines the role of confidence in women’s careers and how a lack of confidence and an excess of confidence are both considered undesirable for women.
Titled ‘How confidence is weaponised against women’, the paper highlights a paradox that exists in business culture whereby women are viewed negatively when they are very confident and likely to miss out on career opportunities when they lack confidence.
It claims that women face similar dilemmas to other underrepresented groups when it comes to figuring out how to behave at work.
If they are seen as overly confident, they are deemed to be domineering or over-compensating. This has a knock-on effect on their confidence when they are viewed negatively by their colleagues, according to the paper.
The paper complements Baker’s research into business ethics. He is particularly interested in psychoanalysis and sustainability in a business context.
He said he received many emails from women executives describing the so-called confidence paradox the paper outlines.
The UCD academic first became interested in what drives confidence in people in business when he thought about how to increase his own confidence levels in the workplace.
Prior to making the switch to academia, he worked for major corporate players Accenture and Deloitte as a management consultant.
He realised through his academic research that confidence is a gendered term that is considered a positive trait in men and a negative trait in women.
“Processes of inequality that disadvantage women are obscured by these taken-for-granted terms, like confidence, that are seen as gender-neutral, rational and fair. They create a smokescreen for pre-existing inequalities in promotion, retention and pay,” he said.
“We offer quite a radical recommendation: leaders should refrain from using this word [confidence] when talking about women and career progression, as it is potentially leading to the solidification of processes of inequality.”
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