Do We Really Need to be 100% Qualified?

Women read instructions.

Women ask for directions

Women follow the rules

In a recent Harvard Business Review article the author, Tara Sophia Mohr, states that women won’t apply for a job unless they feel they are 100% qualified whereas a man will apply if he is only 60% qualified. That is a significant separation.

In the article, Why Women Don’t Apply for Positions Unless they are 100% Qualified, the author gives her thoughts as to why that is the case:

First, it’s likely that due to bias in some work environments, women do need to meet more of the qualifications to be hired than do their male counterparts. For instance, a McKinsey report found that men are often hired or promoted based on their potential, women for their experience and track record. If women have watched that occur in their workplaces, it makes perfect sense they’d be less likely to apply for a job for which they didn’t meet the qualifications.

Second, girls are strongly socialized to follow the rules and in school are rewarded, again and again, for doing so. In part, girls’ greater success in school (relative to boys) arguably can be attributed to their better rule following. Then in their careers, that rule-following habit has real costs, including when it comes to adhering to the guidelines about “who should apply.”

Third, certifications and degrees have historically played a different role for women than for men. The 20th century saw women break into professional life – but only if they had the right training, the right accreditations. These qualifications were our ticket in, our way of proving we could do the job. We weren’t part of an old boys club in which we’d get the benefit of the doubt. That history can, I think, lead women to see the workplace as more orderly and meritocratic than it really is. As a result we may overestimate the importance of our formal training and qualifications, and under-utilize advocacy and networking.

So men apply for positions based on what they CAN learn and women apply based on what they HAVE learned.

A woman’s need to follow the rules means that she isn’t going to apply unless she feels fully qualified. The most interesting part of the article are the additional comments by readers who offer their insights:

  •  As women, we also tend to be keenly aware of gender disparity, which reinforces our need to be adequate for the position. While men may be forgiven for coming up short on qualifications, women are treated more harshly.
  • Tara, you’ve hit the nail in the head, irrespective of color, creed, women are conditioned to follow the rules and those who get the job aren’t (males) don’t necessarily have the qualifications and or experience, hence the expression “it’s not what you know, it’s who you know.”
  • In my case it is definitely reason number one. Working in a field (CFO) where white men dominate, my experience has taught me not to waste time applying for a job unless I meet 110% of the qualifications – inclusive of the two the company didn´t mention.

The actions don’t just apply to people seeking employment. If women are rule followers when it comes to applying for jobs, it follows that we’ll feel the same when seeking out new projects, promotions, asking for a raise, leading a non profit board, starting a company.

We need to step outside our comfort zone and recognize the value of what we bring to the table.