“Why Are Women Beating Us?”
I have asked myself this question over and over for the past several years. In my academic and professional experience I have observed—on an aggregate scale—women consistently and thoroughly outperforming men. Of course, on an individual level you will find both men and women who are incredibly competent and by no means does gender tip the scales in your favor when objectively looking at intellectual output. However, on the aggregate scale women have proven over and over that they are either more capable of or more willing to do what it takes to be successful.
After a significant amount of reflection—both outward and inward—I have developed a theory as to why this is the case. I believe that women as an aggregate in today’s academic and professional environments possess four qualities in more abundance than men that facilitate their progress and success. Those four qualities are: Humility; Confidence; Ambition; and Impact Focus. On the flip side, men as an aggregate struggle with the four following correlates: Self-entitlement; Self-doubt; Laziness; and Money Focus.
Before you disengage or become angry because you take umbrage with particular characteristics (i.e. “I know a girl who has no confidence and is incredibly lazy” or “I’m incredibly ambitious and have very little self-doubt”) please suspend these individual judgments of yourself or individuals that you know. This article is an attempt to comprehend a trend, a picture bigger than any particular anecdote or personal relationship that we have. I will use personal examples to illustrate some of my arguments; not to try to prove that my personal interactions can be expanded to apply to everyone. Rather, my intent is to show how some of these broader concepts can manifest and be observed in our daily lives.
Likewise, I am not necessarily assigning value to the eight qualities I have listed. While we all have preconceived opinions about each of these qualities the point of this article is to show how they relate to what most of us call “success” or “failure.” We could, after all, look at any of these qualities—for example, ambition—and assign negative or positive connotations. Money Focus is not necessarily a bad thing; it just doesn’t correlate to success the same way that I have seen Impact Focus correlate with success.
An application/example in the professional world: I run the Sales Development department at one of the largest financial technology companies in the Pacific Northwest. When I started at the company nearly two years ago the department didn’t exist. When I first set out to create the department there was a period of time when the only person in the department was me. However, as the department continued to grow and the need for more personnel grew I became more and more involved in the hiring process. This was a new experience and I went into the process with very few preconceptions and quite a bit of naïveté. As my department has grown from the smallest to the largest department in a little over six months, one singular thing has stood out to me over the past year: women have simply been better candidates. The other nine members of my team are ALL women.
When my friends or colleagues ask me why there are so many women on my team I can only say truthfully: “well … the women that I interview want the job, want to work, want to grow and the men that I interview … suck.” I struggled with this reality for a long time. It’s not that we hadn’t hired men for the department. My team has notoriously high turnover because of the stressful environment and demanding standards. All three men that we had in the department simply couldn’t or wouldn’t do the job. And, I sincerely believe that we selected the best male candidates from our candidate pool. I’ll add that the position does not attract a higher number of female candidates than male candidates. The dearth of even remotely capable male candidates got so bad that whenever a resume with a male’s name on it came into the inbox I would have two simultaneous thoughts: “oh no. not another one” and “please … please … please be better than the rest.”
While trying to determine why women were so much more successful and men so much more prone to failure I found that the interview itself was a perfect place to start. Women would come in loaded with great questions, express a desire to grow in the company, earn their place and leave a legacy behind them as they moved up. Men, on the contrary, would typically come in express the same desire to move up in the company, but spend no time addressing what they thought they could bring to the table. Likewise, they would typically have very few questions and what questions they did have typically revolved around money and benefits.
Even the one point of apparent similarity, the desire to move up, is only a surface-layer similarity. The big difference is that men expressed a desire to manage and move up. Women expressed a desire to grow and move up. Men wanted management responsibilities simply given to them and they primarily wanted to manage because they wanted to be above other people. Women explicitly stated and showed that they wanted to learn to become leaders and to have a legacy of successful people behind them not below them. In essence, the men wanted to be appointed princes. The women wanted to be pioneers hacking through the brush and building a road making the path more easily navigable by those who followed them.
Now for a closer examination of the four qualities that I believe correlate to women’s success:
Humility is a requirement for growth. To develop quickly you first need to acknowledge that you need to grow. If you are so cocky that you don’t think there is room for improvement or that there are things you should learn from others, why would there be any impetus to improve? At the same time, sustained growth requires confidence. If you recognize that need to grow, but you don’t think that you can, you are immediately setting yourself up for disaster. The quickest way I have arrived at failure in a project is entering into the project with little confidence or conviction that I could succeed. The acknowledgment that you need to grow must be paired with the desire to grow. This is ambition. Without a drive, a willingness to push through adversity to better yourself, the recognition that you need to grow can be more a depressing recognition than an encouraging/productive one. Finally, an attention to the impact of your growth, a purpose/mission/vision, is the keenest way to focus your growth and provide some guidelines for your activities. Without these guidelines there is no target, no objective, and thus “success” is elusive because you don’t know what it looks like.
Money-focus can be a very motivating quality. Unfortunately, in my experience, it is a very dangerous one because it has a strong allure, but an elusive sense of accomplishment. This is because very few people can view the experience of getting money as the end goal. If you can do this, then you could construe accumulating money as your impact. However, most people view money not as an end but a means. Most of us earn money to buy things and experiences not for the experience of earning money. Thus, for most people, money is not the impact, it’s not the goal. Without a bigger deeper goal money often times can be a distraction; not because it isn’t important, but because it can divert your attention away from more important forms of growth that would help you get to your goals quicker.
“I’m not a doomsday naysayer. The sky isn’t falling”
So what do we do about this as men? There is nothing inherently wrong or bad with women becoming better, smarter, stronger, and better leaders. My concern is the apathy that men are approaching this shift with. Where is the drive, the competition, the swagger? Where is the fire and will to win, the desire to be the best and to not just talk about how good you are, but show it? If we genuinely want to be great leaders, great boyfriends, great husbands and fathers we can’t just talk about how impressive we are or expect things to be given to us. We need to actually work towards being better men. Nothing is given for free. Even when things are going well there is only so long that you can coast on your prior accomplishments. We need to throw this paralyzing self-entitlement crap out the window and seize every opportunity we can to improve ourselves. This article is not meant to be an indictment or a depressing complaint. We can fix ourselves. I’m not a doomsday naysayer. The sky isn’t falling. In fact, it’s okay that you are where you are today. What’s not okay is if you stay there.
– written by James W. Larsen, Jr.