Encouraging people to correct for biases does more than change the way we view others. It also affects the opportunities women will seek for themselves. One of us, Adam, presented data in his classes at Wharton on the underrepresentation of women in major leadership roles and discussed the factors that held women back. He thought a public dialogue would prompt action. But during the next five months, there was no change in the percentage of female M.B.A. students who applied for a leadership position on campus.
The following year, he shared the same data about the shortage of female leaders, with one sentence added at the end: “I don’t ever want to see this happen again.” During the next five months, there was a 65 percent increase in the number of female M.B.A. students who sought out leadership roles compared with those who had in the previous year. And the female students who heard this statement were 53 percent more likely to apply for leadership positions than those who did not hear it that year.
To motivate women at work, we need to be explicit about our disapproval of the leadership imbalance as well as our support for female leaders.
When more women lead, performance improves. Start-ups led by women are more likely to succeed; innovative firms with more women in top management are more profitable; and companies with more gender diversity have more revenue, customers, market share and profits. A comprehensive analysis of 95 studies on gender differences showed that when it comes to leadership skills, although men are more confident, women are more competent.