Paola Sapienza, Ernesto Reuben, Pedro Rey-Biel, and Luigi Zingales have performed a fascinating experiment with insights regarding how we select leaders. In their experiment, they asked MBA teams to select a leader to represent the group in a competition that involved quantitative analysis. Everyone involved had performed these calculations two years earlier. They asked each person to recall how they performed on these calculations in the past, and to predict how they thought they would do now. Their results show that, "Women were selected as group leaders 33.3 percent less frequently than they should have been based solely on how well they did in the earlier competition."
The scholars did not stop there though. They went further to understand why this result took place. They examined three potential explanations:
"The first was a difference in the way
men and women judge their own abilities. The second was a difference in
how men and women describe their own abilities. And the third was a
difference in how men and women deal with what the researchers call 'agency problems,' or how they 'respond to conflicts of interest between
their own interest and the group’s.'”
What did they find? Sapienza and her colleagues discovered that the second explanation proved most powerful. Women tended to represent themselves differently than men. While everyone tended to overstate their performance on the task two years earlier, men clearly exaggerated much more than women. They were braggarts. Shocker! Sapienza takes it one step further though. She says that it might not be surprising that men are braggarts, but it is surprising that women don't account for that when casting their vote for who should lead the team. She says, "The fact that men tend to overstate, that's not a surprise. But if everyone knows that, why don't they just say, 'If men say 5, it must be 3.' There is some discounting, but it's very minimal."