Why Women Don’t Apply for Jobs

You’ve probably heard the following statistic: Men apply for a job when they meet only 60% of the qualifications, but women apply only if they meet 100% of them. The finding comes from a Hewlett Packard internal report, and has been quoted in Lean In, The Confidence Code and dozens of articles. It’s usually invoked as evidence that women need more confidence. As one Forbes article put it, “Men are confident about their ability at 60%, but women don’t feel confident until they’ve checked off each item on the list.” The advice: women need to have more faith in themselves.

Bad Advice

But that advice is wrong: People who weren’t applying believed they needed the qualifications not to do the job well, but to be hired in the first place. They thought that the required qualifications were…well, required qualifications. They didn’t see the hiring process as one where advocacy, relationships, or a creative approach to framing one’s expertise could overcome not having the skills and experiences outlined in the job qualifications.

What held them back from applying was not a mistaken perception about themselves, but a mistaken perception about the hiring process.