Why women don’t get ahead

On the same topic I’ve been harping about lately, and to prove that I’m not the only one thinking it, here is an interesting Rant About Women by Clay Shirky at NYU. An excerpt,

So I get email from a good former student, applying for a job and asking for a recommendation. “Sure”, I say, “Tell me what you think I should say.” I then get a draft letter back in which the student has described their work and fitness for the job in terms so superlative it would make an Assistant Brand Manager blush.

So I write my letter, looking over the student’s self-assessment and toning it down so that it sounds like it’s coming from a person and not a PR department, and send it off. And then, as I get over my annoyance, I realize that, by overstating their abilities, the student has probably gotten the best letter out of me they could have gotten.

Now, can you guess the gender of the student involved?

Of course you can. My home, the Interactive Telecommunications Program at NYU, is fairly gender-balanced, and I’ve taught about as many women as men over the last decade. In theory, the gender of my former student should be a coin-toss. In practice, I might as well have given him the pseudonym Moustache McMasculine for all the mystery there was. And I’ve grown increasingly worried that most of the women in the department, past or present, simply couldn’t write a letter like that.

This worry isn’t about psychology; I’m not concerned that women don’t engage in enough building of self-confidence or self-esteem. I’m worried about something much simpler: not enough women have what it takes to behave like arrogant self-aggrandizing jerks.

This is similar to what I was wrote in Geeks drive girls out of computer science when I said,

I once sat in a group of female heads (principals) of boarding schools. Each woman talked about how it was that she decided to go after the Head of School job. Out of 8 Heads of School, only one of them admitted that she had wanted the job and pursued it. The other seven all talked about having a friend, coworker, or administrator who encouraged them to apply for the job. And every one of them was more than qualified for the position, but was timid about seeking it without some encouragement.

Thanks to September for joining me for drinks, letting me rant, and pointing me to this post.


3 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by cdespinosa on January 20, 2010 at 10:29 pm

    There are two things that Shirkey completely misses in his piece.

    First, he takes it for granted that a world where more people are arrogant self-aggrandizing jerks is better. No, it’s not.

    Second, he commits the classic fallacy of presuming that since most arrogant self-aggrandizing jerks are men, men therefore are arrogant self-aggrandizing jerks by nature.

    This is annoying to those of us, men and women, who have become successful without being arrogant self-aggrandizing jerks.

    Non-jerk men and women have plenty of other paths to success and power. And jerkiness is by no means a ticket to success—look at the number of arrogrant self-aggrandizing people who are TOTAL LOSERS. There are probably more of those than there are successes.

    What this comes down to is that Shirkey lives in, and is actively contributing to, a reward system where he helps jerks succeed whether they deserve it or not. And that’s his problem, and he should just stop doing it.


  2. Posted by Eponymous on January 21, 2010 at 10:06 am

    @cdespinosa Right on brother.


  3. It’s true though. Like Shirky said, no girl I know would ever do that. Relating back to your girls-in-Computer-Science post, I’ve also never really heard girls boast about their abilities in the same “I’m-all-that” (arrogant?) way that guys do. “I aced that” comes out of dude’s mouths and I’ve learned over the years that attitude doesn’t bear much relation to actual abilities one way or the other.

    Anyway. Didn’t comment on your last post but I’m very interested in this topic, as a younger woman in the field. Keep blogging :)


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