Researching the gender confidence gap


Women start their careers with more ambition than men do, but they lose their confidence within their first years in the workplace. That’s the conclusion of a Bain & Co. study that compared employees with minimal work experience with more tenured workers. The study posed two simple questions:

        --Do you aspire to top management within a large company?

        --Do you have confidence you can reach top management?

The study found that, within two years of starting out in the workplace, the percentage of women who aspire to reach top management plummeted by about 60 percent. At the same time, their confidence dropped by more than 50 percent.

The study points to many factors that might lead to this erosion in ambition and confidence, including a lack of role models and career support from supervisors as well as the perception that senior leaders sacrifice a great deal personally to meet organizational demands but does not have a definitive explanation for why this gap exists.

The issues at play are myriad and complex; moreover, they extend beyond merely improving the percentage of women at the top, since there’s reason to believe that even those who make it there may struggle with confidence -- a University of Texas study recently showed that by the time women do reach the most senior levels, they typically exhibit symptoms of depression and have worse mental health than lower-level female employees.

Understanding why this confidence gap might exist would seem to be critical to talent management efforts moving forward.  After all, such gender disparities have implications for how HR professionals design and implement leadership development programs, compensation systems and strategic workforce plans. 

As an HR professional at the center of your organization’s talent management efforts, do you notice a gender confidence gap?  If so, does it impact your organization’s ability to retain and promote women?  And if not, what do you think your organization is doing to avoid this challenge and how might other organizations learn from your experience?


For the full Trend Watch article on this topic go to



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