One of the biggest differences I have found between men and women in my research is the amount of luck they attribute to their career success. Men will often talk about their success as something planned and premeditated, whereas women will often say that opportunities just came up and that they’ve been really lucky.
This ‘male’ attitude and confidence is good to have in our world of work, where you’re expected to go out and get whatever it is you want and to constantly strive to become faster, higher, stronger. Research has shown that women are more careful when asking for promotions and applying for new positions; they usually play down their competencies while men tend to claim they are better at something than they really are. Also, women are not as good at negotiation terms as men are. All this of course adds to the gender inequalities women continue to face at work and HR professionals often work with women to give them more confidence in themselves, which is important of course.
But I’ve been thinking. My last blog post ended with me saying how lucky I am, and as I published that post I wondered whether I would have ended with a comment on how hard I have worked had I been a man. And it is true, I have worked hard to be where I am, and I continue to work hard. Sometimes I think I need to be kinder to myself, although I am also proud of having such a strong work ethic. I think it is important and admirable to work hard, just like all those men and women I’ve interviewed have done (even though the women claimed to have been lucky).
However, as I work hard, I am also aware that it is also luck and circumstance that have made me who I am. I’m lucky to have been born to my family, in my country – a country at peace and a welfare state where we can’t even imagine the hardship that so many people in the world experience. These circumstances put me through a good school, gave me an education, and put me in touch with people who have been able to help me in different ways on the road to where I am today. Whether or not I work hard, I am hugely privileged, and for someone who hasn’t been as lucky, it doesn’t matter how hard they work, they still won’t enjoy the success that I do.
So yes, we do work hard, but more of it than we like to admit is really just down to luck. Maybe we shouldn’t sigh when women claim they’ve just been very lucky. Maybe we should nod, and recognize it instead as the wise insight into the state of things that it is.