Fake It Until You Make It Works for Everybody

Image Credit: Marcos Elihu Castillo Ramirez/iStock/GettyImages

A lot of advice about getting ahead in your career seems to forget something vital about half its audience. Women know they ought to negotiate for a better salary and put themselves out there for promotions, but they also know how likely they are to see those efforts blow up in their faces. There is a different standard based on gender in the workplace — but perhaps not when it comes to confidence.

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Economists at Washington State University have just released a study on "cheap talk," or statements that can't be verified. In this context, it's about saying things like "I have extremely strong problem-solving skills" in a cover letter — the kind of statement that you hope will get you a chance to prove yourself. In the economists' study, female participants who delivered cheap talk-style advice expected some degree of blowback. Instead, everyone who gave out this cheap talk was received equally. Female leaders were found to be just as likeable as male leaders, and just as likely to have their advice followed.

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"The fact that the subjects expected discrimination suggests that it's hard for people to know when discrimination is going to happen," said coauthor Ketki Sheth. Ultimately, the best way to remove that uncertainty is for structural change within an organization. The onus shouldn't be on women to fix a systemic problem by themselves. If you're just looking to climb the career ladder, however, it can't hurt to pump yourself up like you believe it — especially since it works.

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