Fantastic news from the Credit Suisse Research Institute. Australia and New Zealand topped the ‘momentum’ category for female participation in senior management. Australia makes big strides in closing gender gap, global survey finds.

So, while we may not be there yet, we ARE on the way!

What more can be done to keep – if not increase – the momentum?

Here are four ways for organisations to disrupt the biases that women face, and increase gender inclusion:


1. Hire for Competency

Jack Zenger and Joseph Folkman have researched leadership competencies over many years. They are baffled there aren’t more women in leadership because their research shows that MANAGERS RATE FEMALE LEADERS MORE HIGHLY on 17 of 19 competencies they measure.

Their suggestion sounds obvious but perhaps isn’t: to get more competent leaders – hire for competency.

Sure, women ARE tougher self-critics. According to 360º reporting, line managers know that women are more competent. That’s what their ratings show.

Zenger & Folkman see it as ‘disturbing’ that there aren’t more women in leadership roles. They suggest women’s lower levels of confidence has a benefit: it motivates them to work harder at developing their leadership. So far, organisations are reaping that benefit. Are women reaping the benefits of their own talents?

Women score higher than men

What’s holding women back is not a lack of capability but a lack of opportunity.

What to check:

  • Your 360º leadership data
  • Your recruitment processes – are they using that data?
  • Women are being adequately encouraged to apply for promotions

What talent bonus might your organisation be missing out on?

Ch 1 of helps you to unlock the talent bonus: download it here.


2. Pay close attention to differences in how men and women are recommended, even if they have the same capability and experience.

Size shouldn’t matter, but there ARE times when it does. Mikki Hebl & colleagues investigated differences in recommendation letters written for men and women.

The length of recommendations, as well as words used, differ for males and females with the same qualifications.

The size of the recommendation makes a significant impact during recruitment.

Written recommendations for men are longer than those for women. Longer letters are associated with better candidates.

Different words are used. Male applicants are more likely than female to be described as superb, outstanding, remarkable, exceptional. Female applicants are more likely to be described as hardworking, conscientious, kind.

‘Doubt raisers’ are used more for women than men:

  • Negativity – she doesn’t have much work experience
  • Faint praise – she needs only minimal supervision
  • Hedging – she might not be the best, but she’ll be good enough

Even if intended positively, they lead to negative ratings.

How we describe men and women

When you write/review letters of recommendation, check their overall length and the descriptive words you use.

I’ve previously written about these issues here.


3. Give better support to talented women

Getting a corporate sponsor is harder if you are a woman than a man. And being a corporate sponsor, as a woman, carries penalties.

Anne Welsh McNulty suggests the way to get around this is to find more ways for women to support other women. Provide more support, do it more vocally, until perceptions change and the right work gets done to achieve gender balance.

Dont underestimate the power of women supporting each other

The advantages to individuals are access to opportunities and having more people know of their achievements. The big advantage to sponsors is getting a reputation as a cultivator of talent. The advantage to organisations is a lifting of talent, and better visibility of that talent.

✔︎ Support reduces feelings of competition for the few spots at the top
✔︎ It helps women realise ‘it’s not just me’
✔︎ It also helps to identify bad players and increase the chances they’ll be called out.

Find a way to get and /or give better support to the women in your organisation.

What could you do to help support talented people who are less visible in your organisation?

You can read about my take on the (myth of the) Queen Bee phenomenon here.


And here’s a way for women to disrupt the biases that they experience:

4. Believe less in the rules

You all know the statistic – women apply for jobs only when they’re 100% ready, while men apply when they’re 60% ready.

why didn't you apply for that job

As Tara Sophia Mohr writes, this is interpreted as an indication that women lack confidence and men don’t. Ergo, women should be more confident. However, she wanted to check this out, so surveyed >1000 people & asked them why they didn’t apply for jobs when they thought they weren’t qualified.

Most, men (46%) and women (41%), said it was because they didn’t meet the qualifications and didn’t want to waste time & energy. As Tara says, ‘they thought the required qualifications were…well, required.’

Women were more likely than men (20% vs 13%) to not apply because of a concern with failure. Understanding the greater concern with failure is a more interesting thread to unravel than confidence.

78% of women don’t apply because they trust the hiring process to be consistent with the rules on paper.

This is why you should believe less in the rules. If you are a woman, that is.

Women should believe less in the rules and rely more on advocacy, relationships and creativity


Organisations should follow their own rules.

OR both.


What might you do to give up the rules? And do we need reminding of this?

When you seek to achieve gender balance, you avoid overconfidence, and that means better decisions are made. Overconfidence harms organisations. When CEOs are overconfident, they underestimate risk and overestimate returns. This destroys shareholder value.

Chen & colleagues explored how to avoid overconfidence by researching whether or not CEOs exercised their stock options. They analysed this against female board membership. They found a direct relationship between female board membership and male CEO overconfidence. Female board membership served to keep male CEO overconfidence in check. It reduced the impact of the financial crisis of 2008 for their firms.


Greater diversity of views helps to make better decisions on complex matters.
Less conformity – women are more likely to express independent views.
More options, their pros and cons, are considered.
A board with female directors is more likely to challenge the CEO’s decisions.

Diverse people contribute diverse perspectives and this helps avoid overconfidence and improve performance.

When woman are on board male ceos less

How are you increasing diversity in your decision making to reduce overconfidence?

Send me a message if you’d like a copy of my diversity report on Australian boards, or get in touch with me here to bring my gender bias and inclusion training to your organisation.

Join my gender, diversity and inclusion mailing list
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