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Women are lucky. Men are competent

How do we see the success of others? New research shows that successful women and Black often are seen as having been lucky instead of competent. “Female and black professionals are more likely than their male and white colleagues to be viewed as lucky in their accomplishments rather than competent”, according to research from The Inclusion Initiative at LSE (London School of Economics and Political Science).

The authors highlight that being viewed as lucky, rather than able means fewer opportunities, less pay and fewer promotions. Companies could therefore be disadvantaged by holding back some of their most talented employees.

“Sadly, I am not surprised that women and black individuals are less likely to get personal credit for their successes. We now need inclusive leaders to make sure this does not happen going forward. These leaders do not doubt that this is happening and recognise the need for structures to be put in place to make sure it no longer happens”, says Dr Grace Lordan, Director of The Inclusion Initiative at LSE.

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Odessa S. Hamilton, Behavioural Scientist and lead author, said that how we view the success of others from different sociodemographic groups is a crucial leverage point for inclusion and diversity, particularly as women and under-represented ethnic groups continue to be systematically disadvantaged in the workforce. 

“Ignoring this bias has direct implications on individuals and can have knock on effects for future success.”

Hamilton and Lordan reviewed 50 years of research, from 1970 to 2020. Their paper concludes: “Decades of research in psychological and social sciences have pointed to individuals making systematic errors in attributions of success…What we do see consistently is that these biases underlying attribution errors lead to disparities between opportunities afforded or denied to individuals, and so they have important implications for organisation diversification and occupational engagement.”

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Males can become disproportionately rewarded for what is thought to be ability, without regard to the ease through which earlier successes may have been afforded. This can also be harmful to men when hired or promoted into roles where failure is foreseeable. In contrast, women may be overlooked for employment or promotion because of a perceived rather than actual ability-deficit, the paper says. 

“This error in judgment can cause women to be deemed unworthy of the positions they hold, excluded from key discourse, given less credit, and overlooked for progression into senior roles.” 

Ability or luck: A systematic review of interpersonal attributions of success by Odessa S. Hamilton and Grace Lordan is published in the journal Frontiers of Psychology.

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