Research by ESMT Berlin Business School has found that women must be confident and caring to succeed in business, showing ‘pro-social’ behaviour, to obtain leadership positions.
The study, led by Laura Guillén, Assistant Professor of Organisational Behaviour, also revealed that, in contrast, men only need to display confidence to achieve success.
Working with colleagues from IE Business School and INSEAD, Guillén studied 236 engineers from a multinational software development company, of which 22% were women, and assessed how self-confident each was perceived to be by their supervisors.
The results showed that there was no difference between genders in terms of the extent to which high performing men and women were seen as confident by upper management, but that women were not rewarded equally for their self-confidence.
In order to be rewarded equally, women had to also display ‘pro-social’ behaviour – or in other words, show that they care about others and take others’ interests at heart.
“There are a number of studies that have shown that when women display behaviour consistent with being ambitious, it affects them negatively,” commented Guillén.
“In other words, they are not liked. Our research shows that women currently need to show pro-social orientation to counterbalance this negative effect – something men do not need to do to get ahead.
“People want to work in a friendly environment. They want their workplace to be diverse. But in order to create this environment companies need to think carefully about whether being pro-social is a job requirement and then treat women and men equally accordingly. Making sure this happens should not be solely women’s responsibility – organisations need to take concrete steps to promote it actively.”