Qualities that move women ahead in school may hold them back in careers

February 13, 20192 minute read

An article in the New York Times poses a possible answer to the question of why girls consistently outperform boys academically and yet men hold 95 percent of the top positions in the largest public companies.

The article, written by psychologist Lisa Damour and titled “Why Girls Beat Boys at School and Lose to Them at the Office,” suggests that girls learn competence in school while boys learn confidence. This, she contends, prepares males better for success in later life. She quotes authors Claire Shipman and Katty Kay as saying, “Underqualified and underprepared men don’t think twice about leaning in. Overqualified and overprepared, too many women still hold back. Women feel confident only when they are perfect.”

The problem, according to the author is that girls become “hyper-conscientious” and only feel secure in their abilities when they put in a super amount of time and effort. In contrast, boys tend to focus on “succeeding in school while exerting minimal or moderate effort” and “build their belief in their abilities and grow increasingly at ease relying on them.” She offers some suggestions for how to help girls gain confidence in their abilities without always having to count on “intellectual elbow grease alone.”

“First, parents and teachers can stop praising inefficient overwork, even if it results in good grades.”

“We can also encourage girls toward a different approach to school — one that’s more focused on economy of effort, rather than how many hours they put in.”

These and other suggestions are aimed at helping girls realize that working at top speed in every class at all times is unhealthy and unsustainable.