Examining the Confidence Gap: Causes, Solutions, and Suggestions



Why does one person get a raise, while another employee is overlooked? As much as we would like to believe it's based merely on employee performance, something far more subtle often decides who gets the promotion and who doesn't. Confidence can play a vital role in determining not only who gets the job, but who gets the raise as well. In fact, confidence is just as strongly correlated with success as competence is. However, when that confidence is undeserved, it can contribute to inequality in the workplace. Men and individuals from upper-class backgrounds tend to have higher confidence levels than women and those who grew up in lower-income households. A recent study from Stanford University shows that this confidence gap can play a considerable role in inequality by causing women, minorities, and lower-income individuals to be passed over for job opportunities and raises not because of a lack of competence, but because of a lack of confidence. This over-reliance on confidence not only acts as another advantage for privileged groups, but can also cause companies to overlook talented, diverse individuals.


Because this confidence gap costs companies talent and hurts diversity in the workplace, it is essential to seek out and address this dynamic's causes. So, what causes some people to act less confident than others? First, employees might be afraid to speak out and act decisively because they fear an adverse reaction. When women and minorities act assertively, they often face pushback from coworkers, leading them to downplay their achievements and skills. Besides, the burden of dealing with prejudice and microaggressions on a daily basis is exhausting. It can cause lower self-esteem and higher fatigue levels, lowering an employee's perceived confidence. Those from upper-class backgrounds also tend to think they deserve higher wages and better jobs. This difference in attitudes can cause them to ask for raises and promotions, even if they don't deserve them. In contrast, minorities, women, and those born into lower-income households tend to feel less comfortable asking for what they want, which can cause them to miss opportunities.


The solution may seem simple: encourage employees to be more confident. However, this approach is ineffective and raises several problems. Just telling employees to be more confident puts the burden of fixing inequality on already disadvantaged workers. The issue doesn't lie with them; it's with the way many companies reward overconfidence instead of competence. Women and minorities are often quite self-aware about their abilities. Encouraging them to be overconfident not only doesn't fix the underlying issue, but can also cause more problems in the long run. Since assertiveness is often considered a negative trait in women, female employees who try to over-compensate may actually be worse off than before.


An essential first step in creating a company culture that values competence is making sure all employees, regardless of background, feel comfortable speaking up and sharing their ideas. Having a diverse workplace is vital if this is to become a reality. Bringing together people with different viewpoints and experiences creates a company culture of innovation and healthy debate. When all perspectives are heard and respected, this openness to others' ideas and experiences allows disadvantaged employees to speak and truly be heard. It is also crucial for interviewers and managers to be educated on the dangers of relying too much on confidence when making decisions on who to hire and who to promote.


Similarly, using impartial measures of an employee's skill is crucial. For example, quantitative measurements of success can be used to evaluate employees' competence fairly and to help overcome the superficial projection of expertise that over-confidence creates. While the confidence gap is a real problem for both disadvantaged employees and the companies where they work, real progress can be made with dedication and commitment. We all want an equal, dynamic workplace, where competence and skill drive success. By implementing strategies to reward proficiency, not egotism, companies can lift up their diverse employees and ensure they have the most skilled workforce possible.

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