In an internet conversation I had with a public school educator this week, somebody raised the topic of the Dunning-Kruger effect. That’s a well-documented tendency (in dominant American culture) for the least skilled among us to overestimate their competence, while the highly skilled underestimate their competence. When you try to tell the incompetents that they are not da bomb, they will criticize your evidence, and go confidently on their way.
Not until they actually get some training in the area they think they already excel at do they realize their genius is lacking.
I interjected a comment into the conversation about the Hewlett Packard study.: A review of personnel records found that women working at HP applied for a promotion only when they believed they met 100 percent of the qualifications listed for the job. Men were happy to apply when they thought they could meet 60 percent of the job requirements.
That study sparked a ton of other studies, some of which found Dunning-Kruger was at work on a gendered basis. Men do tend to overestimate their skills, women underestimate theirs. Put another way: Women were confident only if they are perfect or nearly perfect.
BUT that sparked more studies–people went back and asked the ladies, “Why not apply for a job that you could do with a little extra training?” the response from women was, essentially: Why waste my time and energy? In other words, they perceived the playing field as so grossly gender biased, that men who “think they have” 60 percent of the quals can get that job, while women who DO have all the skills will be passed over.
I see some heads nodding, but noses wrinkling as well. Not every male executive is a clueless affront to an army of perfectly qualified female subordinates, of course. Not every woman is a frustrated superstar CEO. But these findings suggest that as a culture, we have not promoted the best qualified people–we’ve promoted the most confident guys, and yes, the most confident white guys.
Those highly skilled women arrived to their decisions based on experience and observation. What we quickly labeled lack of confidence in them turned out to be lack of fairness in the work place. Men also perceived that lack of fairness, but the result in them–going for jobs they were barely half-qualified to do–was labeled confidence.
Where am I going with this?
To a positive place: Women are more effective legislators than men. Women are better doctors than men, on the whole. Women raise the collective IQ of a group more than men do. My theory is that gender has little to do with these findings–being an underdog has everything to do with why women have developed better listening skills, better social sensitivity, keener observation, more creative problem solving abilities.
The underdog always has broader knowledge than the overdogs. This encourages me. Why? Because we are a society with a lot of underdogs, and if my theory is correct, that means we have a ton of highly skilled leaders, problem solvers, thinkers, and creatives ready to go forth and make great changes… if we empower them to do so.
Am I full of baloney? Does your experience comport with the studies mentioned? Ever run across one of those Dunning-Kruger pseudo-experts? To one commenter, I’ll send a print copy of Elias in Love.