“So the women who are 100% qualified are still underrepresented. They don’t need confidence. They need a penis.”

It’s going around again — the statistic that men apply for a job when they think they have at least 60% of the qualifications, but women only apply when they believe they meet 100% of the qualifications.

The stat is based on Hewlett Packard’s internal study of their own employee records. It’s been cited in Lean In and more recently, The Confidence Code, as evidence that women need to be more assertive and less insecure.

This makes my head explode.

First, let’s look at HP’s diversity stats from their 2013 Living Progress Report.

HP Workforce


Like many tech companies, HP has very few women working there to begin with, about 30%. Those numbers get smaller as you go up the ladder. Only 17.5% of HP executives are women. To it’s credit, HP’s CEO is a woman.

There also happens to be, oh, about a bazillion reasons why someone would choose not to apply for a job even if she was qualified for it. Here are a few that come to mind:

  • The position sucks
  • The work is not interesting
  • It’s a dead-end position
  • The manager or others on the team are jerks
  • It would require a significant change in location, hours, commute time
  • She is already running a house, managing kids’ schedules, helping with her husband’s start-up, and doesn’t need one more person to take care of.
  • She is deathly allergic to meetings, stupid questions, and company politics.
  • Promotion means more difficulty with men who see her as a threat
  • She doesn’t care about status for the sake of status

It’s also possible she likes her current job.

However, I suspect that the number one reason why women don’t apply for promotions is that they don’t think they will get the job and don’t want to waste their time. This is based on decades of actual and personal experience of discrimination.

It is also possible that the HP workforce is not an accurate representation of women and work in general. Oh, that.

You can have all the confidence you want and it won’t get you the job in a company that doesn’t hire or promote women.

Let’s look at that stat again. Women at HP only apply for promotion when they are 100% qualified, yet look at how many actually work there: 17.5% as executives; 25.3% as managers, and 29.4% as professionals (whatever the hell that means).

So the women who are 100% qualified are still underrepresented.

They don’t need confidence. They need a penis.

Confidence is not a goal, or a magic potion, or even something you can give someone. It is a natural attribute of being in an environment where we feel comfortable, competent, and appreciated, where we have the resources and autonomy to do great work. It is a symptom of a healthy work environment, not something you can acquire.

More importantly, we need to quit trying to fix women. Women are fine. They are amazing.

It’s discrimination that’s the problem.

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