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U.S. Workplaces Boost the Confidence of Men… And Destroy the Ambitions of Women

American women enter the corporate workforce with higher aspirations to reach the top than their male counterparts, and with the confidence that they can get there. But according to research by the management consulting firm Bain & Co., women’s ambition reaches a cliff edge, and then falls off it, as early as two years into working life.

Moreover, the research found that the most common explanation for women’s slower and less certain rise through company ranks—motherhood—was irrelevant. Women are instead losing confidence in their ability to fit the stereotype of what “success” looks like at an American company.

Bain surveyed more than 1,000 woman and men and found that when starting a job, 43% of women aspired to reach top management, whereas only 34% of men saw themselves on course for the C-suite, in high-ranking roles like CEO and CFO. When asked whether they had the confidence to reach their goals, 27% of women and 28% of men answered “yes.”

But experienced employees—defined as anyone with more than two years in a firm—reported differently. Now, only 16% of women aspired to reach top management, versus 34% of men.

Women in more senior leadership positions...

Why Federal Managers Fail to Fire Their Low Performers

A recent article in The Washington Post listed the top five reasons why federal managers fail to fire their low performers. Citing a guide published by the Merit Systems Protection Board, the article states: “Managers have a lot of power to take action against employees and supervisors because of misconduct or poor work. But they don’t use it.” I wholeheartedly agree.

The guide contains survey data that is quite revealing about both the understanding and attitudes of federal managers with respect to the removal process. Quite frankly, it indicates that they do not understand it as well as they should, and even more troubling, many are not prepared to do the right thing and terminate a poor employee when it is appropriate.

Let’s examine why.

The probationary period. The one-year probationary period for new employees is intended to be the final step of the selection process and provides managers with a relatively easy vehicle to terminate poor employees. However, the guide states: “The data indicates that during the probationary period, when individuals can be removed easily, supervisors are reluctant to separate those who are not a good fit for the job. In other words, how the rules are...

Here's How Much Sexism Costs Economies Around the Globe

When women suffer from sexism, so too does the entire economy. That’s the crux of a new paper by economists (pdf) David Cuberes (Clark University) and Marc Teignier (Universitat de Barcelona), which quantifies the economic loss caused by the limited involvement of women in professional fields, especially among entrepreneurs and CEOs.

Across OECD countries, according to the data reported in the study, a third or fewer entrepreneurs are women, and the percentage of female CEOs is a scrawny 3%. In addition to the moral grounds for boosting women’s access to higher-level professional positions, there are also economic motivations for doing so, as the Economist points out.

The presence of women entrepreneurs raises the “average talent of entrepreneurs” by increasing the pool of contenders. Entrepreneurs in greater numbers increase competition, which boosts success in the economy and per-capita income. Using the latest available data up to 2010, the authors looked at the existing gap between female and male participation in the workforce and entrepreneurship levels and chief executive positions among women. They then quantified the short-term and long-term effects on a country’s per-capita income by projecting what it would be for that year if women’s involvement in...

Heck of a Recovery, New Orleans

As the 10 anniversary of Hurricane Katrina and the tragedy in the Gulf Coast draws near, I have been reflecting on the dozen-plus post-2005 trips that I have made to New Orleans. Each trip was made in concert with the 10-year "Covenant to Serve" that my University of Pennsylvania students and I forged before the floodwaters had fully receded and while dead bodies were still being discovered in the rubble. All told, more than 1,000 Penn students have contributed more than 45 person-years of service to the Crescent City's human, financial and physical recovery process (defining a person-year of service as 35 hours a week for 52 weeks a year). Their service is chronicled in the brief story and video A 10-Year Covenant to Serve on the Penn Arts & Sciences website.

In addition to radiating pardonable (I hope) pride in what the Penn students and alumni have contributed, there are at least five governance lessons about the disaster and the post-Katrina recovery saga that I believe are worth teaching and preaching. 

The first lesson is that what happened in 2005 was a "governance disaster," not a "natural disaster." You can call what happened a natural disaster only if...

Study: Here is Why You Never Know What Day It Is

Do you find yourself forgetting which day it is during the monotony of mid-week? A new study suggests this is because during the week, you’re neither stressed nor excited.

Research published last week in PLOS ONE found that people were more likely to be confused about what day of the week it was on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday, and more likely to have a myriad of positive and negative associations with Monday and Friday, more so than other days of the week.

Led by University of Lincoln psychologist David Ellis, the team conducted three surveys of more than 1,200 people overall. In one study they showed that it took twice as long for participants to guess the right day of the week on Wednesdays than on Mondays and Fridays, with Tuesdays and Thursdays falling in between.

Mean response time when participants were asked what day of the week it was.(Courtesy of Rob Jenkins)

The study shows that this could be related to the richness of our associations with each day of the week. People feel more extremely about Mondays and Fridays (negative for Monday and positive for Friday) and associate them with more events, activities, and feelings...