Early in my consulting career, I met with a prospective client whose industry had very few women employed in it at the time. We hit it off and he said something that has stuck with me since those early days.
“I’ve noticed an odd 80/20 rule when it comes to consultants I interview,” he said. “Of all the consultants I meet with, 80% of them are men, and 20% are women. Of the men I meet with, 80% don’t seem to know as much as they think they do and of the women I meet with, 80% are really sharp. Why do you think that is?”
I know it’s only one person’s experience – but over the years his words have echoed back to me. He saw fewer women compared to the number of men he saw, but the women he met with were more impressive than their male counterparts.
I’ve often thought that men have a presumed competence that gives them their confidence. It’s assumed that they’ll figure it out so they are given the benefit of the doubt. And with that, they have the confidence (or hubris) to jump into the water first, and figure out how to swim once they are wet. Women, on the other hand, have to have the experience already under their belt because they have to prove themselves somewhere else first. So first they sign up for swimming lessons, start out in the shallow end and only after passing tests and getting permission do thy venture into the deep end. Not all women, and not all men – but many.
Perhaps I’m talking in generalities and stereotypes, but over and over again, women have a tougher time with the assumption of success. That may be what holds them back, or makes them worried about leaning in, or raising their hand first before careful consideration about whether they should raise their hand.
I ask my clients ‘What’s the worst thing that can happen?’ What might be the worst thing that could happen if you assumed you could do something without having a proven track record? I guess the worst thing might be that you are proven wrong and it hurts your reputation. But people make mistakes all the time. And people who work hard also work hard to insure that mistakes aren’t made. They have back up plans, do their research, and find mentors and sponsors.
If you are asking people to bet on you, bet on yourself first.