Bain and Company released the findings of their five year research on gender parity in June 2014 and the results were shocking. After just two years in the workplace, women’s aspirations dropped 60% and their confidence 50%. The conclusions of the study were that the current work environment does not provide women with female role models or managerial support and encouragement. It endorses an ideal worker stereotype that doesn’t resonate with most women. Bain and Company makes suggestions for how companies can overcome the existing obstacles for women in order to retain and promote their ambition and talent.
The current work environment is not conducive to promoting women. But are the workplace challenges the only reason that women lose their aspirations and confidence?
The sustainability of one’s ambition requires mastery of a skill and acknowledgement for that skill. Maintaining one’s ambition also depends on a belief that you are likely to succeed. We see from the Bain and Company study that qualified women aren’t receiving recognition and encouragement and they don’t see a clear path to success. This confirms Bain’s conclusion that these factors rob high potential women of their confidence and ambition.
Is there more to the story?
In order for ambitious women to succeed in a competitive male dominated workplace, they must have the grit and determination along with the belief that they will be successful. Certainly workplace factors contribute to many talented women losing the conviction that they can climb to senior leadership positions. There are, however, some equally qualified women who survive and thrive despite the obstacles. What makes these women less susceptible to the challenges?
Here are three possible explanations for why women lose confidence in the workplace other than the workplace conditions.
External Locus of Control
One explanation is the psychological theory called Locus of Control (LOC). This theory, which is not new, suggests that everyone develops an internal model that predicts whether or not their actions will produce their desired results. People with an “internal locus of control” believe they have the power to be successful based on their innate abilities. These individuals approach their work with optimism and confidence. They feel they can control their destiny despite hurdles.
People with an “external locus of control” do not believe that their work will lead to positive outcomes. They attribute success with external unstable factors such as luck. When they fail, they see their own lack of ability as the reason for their non-performance. They have little sense of their capability and therefore are more likely to react negatively to setbacks and take it on as their fault. This results in low self-esteem and less determination to pursue one’s goals. Some studies propose that girls and women are more likely to have the “external locus of control” than their male counterparts.
In my experience coaching hundreds of professional women over the years, I have witnessed many high-achieving women struggle with their confidence. They are plagued with self-doubt not withstanding their obvious accomplishments. The “imposter syndrome” is rampant among competent women. These women do not have faith in their talent or understand their personal power. They truly believe they have been successful due to luck and circumstances beyond their control. It’s easy to see how these women never measure up to their own expectations and perfectionism.
I have also observed that many of my female clients blame their lack of performance or achievement on other people like their boss, employees, or peers, or on circumstances and events like the market or status of their company, rather than taking ownership and changing their own actions. These women have an external locus of control that makes them more vulnerable to the workplace environment.
Just last week, I had a client tell me that she lacks self-confidence. Even though she has achieved many successes in her young career, she believes that every one of her team members is smarter than she. Her boss publically calls out her team members for their brilliance and though he acknowledges her value to the organization privately, his recognition of others makes her feel less competent. Her locus of control is external. In this case, any obstacles in the workplace have the potential to be inflated.
But what is important to note is that women who have an inner belief in their ability to succeed are more likely to succeed despite any obstacles. They are generally more achievement-oriented and confident. They trust that they have the influence and power to fix situations; that they can positively affect outcomes at work. These are the women who thrive in a competitive environment regardless of having little support or role models.
Read the full article on Forbes.com.