Men’s “honest” overconfidence may help explain why they dominate the C-suite (i.e. corporate leadership positions).

A press release from the Columbia Business School regarding a study that appeared in the “Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization” stated that a part of this gender gap is likely explained by overt discrimination against women.

However, the study, conducted by researchers from Columbia Business School and Autonomous University of Barcelona, found that men also hold an exaggerated opinion of their past performance.  Moreover, this overconfidence led to their promotion over women.

For one part of the study, the researchers asked MBA students to take a math test. Women and men scored about the same in these tests.  When asked a year later about their performance, both men and women on average overestimated their performance.

The major difference, however, is that men on average rated their performance 30 percent higher than the actual results compared to just 15 percent higher for women.

For another part of the study, the participants were split into groups.  They were then told to choose a representative to compete in the math test with other groups.  The group that wins would receive a collective cash prize.  The person chosen to compete, however, would also get an individual cash prize regardless of the competition results. 

The study found that both men and women exaggerated their performance in order to boost their chance of being chosen to compete (and receive the individual cash prize).

However, while men and women lied with the same frequency, men exaggerated their performance to a greater degree.  As a result, women were ultimate chosen to be the group representative “1/3 less often than their abilities would otherwise indicate.”

The researchers concluded that the gender differential in being selected to the lucrative representative position is explained by men’s “honest” overconfidence in their abilities.

The Columbia Business School press release suggested that “recruiters should consider overconfidence when considering male candidates' claims about past performance.”