The Gender Gap in Self-Promotion

The gender gap in self-promotion persists even when incentives to self-promote are removed and information about other people's average level of self-promotion is provided.


Research has shown that the differences in men and women’s behaviors in professional environments may have a large impact on the gender gap in the success of men and women in several occupational fields, including academia and business-related professions. For example, research has shown that women may be less willing to compete than men, and women’s anger decreases their influence while men’s anger increases their influence in group deliberations.  What are the ways in which we can narrow these gender gaps and ensure that our workplaces have a level playing field for people of all genders?

In many labor markets, individuals are asked to assess their own performance—whether in applications, interviews, performance reviews, or other settings. During these situations, individuals are asked explicitly and implicitly to provide self-evaluations of their ability and performance. However, there has been little research on if and how self-evaluations differ by equally performing men and women.

In this study, researchers investigated whether self-evaluations vary by gender, and whether self-evaluations change based on the type of environment (such as whether self-evaluations may influence hiring outcomes or whether other relevant information is provided).


Women tend to evaluate their performance less favorably than equally-performing men. This gap in self-evaluations persists even when incentives to self-promote (i.e., to inflate one’s self-evaluation) are removed and information about other people's average level of self-evaluations is provided.

  • Although women on average performed better than men on the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB) test which tests mathematical and verbal reasoning, women on average rated their performance 25% lower than men on average rated their performance.
  • The gender gap in self-evaluations cannot be explained by a confidence gap.
    • This is because it persists even when men and women are fully informed with objective data on how well they performed on the test (i.e., how many questions they answered correctly and how that performance compare to others).
  • The gender gap in self-evaluations persists when there are no incentives to self-promote, or to inflate one’s self-evaluation.
    • Women who were told that their self- evaluations would not be shared with their employers still had less favorable self-promotion than men who were told the same information.
  • The gender gap in self-evaluations persists to a variety of other interventions, including when men and women were given information about the typical self-evaluations provided by others.
  • The gender gap in self-evaluations is specific to evaluating oneself rather than others.
    • When women and men are asked to evaluate others rather than themselves, there is no gap in their evaluations. That is, there is no gender gap in “other-evaluations.”

In this study, researchers examined differences in the self-evaluations provided by men and women. In the first portion of the experiment researchers recruited 3,293 working participants from Amazon’s Mechanical Turk (mTurk) platform to complete one of six study versions. In all six versions, participants answered 20 questions from the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB). This test is used by the U.S. military to measure aptitude of service members for jobs and promotions, as well as by academic researchers to measure cognitive ability. The ASVAB test assesses participants in the areas of General Science, Arithmetic Reasoning, Math Knowledge, Mechanical Comprehension, and Assembling Objects. After taking the test, participants were asked to assess their own performance, both before and after finding out how well they did.

In the Self-Promotion version of the experiment, participants were told that their self-evaluations about how well they performed on the ASVAB test would be reported to a potential employer, who would then use that information to make hiring and salary decisions. In the Private version, participants were told that no employers would see their self-evaluations in order to remove incentives to “self-promote” or answer in a way that would influence their payment or hiring. In the Private (Social Norms) version, participants were given the same setting as the Private version, but they were additionally given information about the average self-evaluations of other people who took the test and scored similarly. In the Self-Promotion (Risky) version, participants were given the same setting and information as the Self-Promotion version and they were additionally told that there was a chance that an employer would receive the outcome of their actual performance and therefore be able to potentially “catch” them seeming to inflate their self-evaluations. In the Private (Immediately Informed) version, the environment was changed so as to limit the potential of women being anchored to low self-evaluations.  In the Private (Other-Evaluation) version, participants were asked to evaluate the performance of others rather than themselves.   

In the portion of the experiment assessing the “employers” responses, the researchers recruited 300 participants from mTurk to evaluate the Self-Promotion versions of the study. They asked these “employers” whether they would hire participants with various responses to self-evaluations and how much they would pay them, based on the workers’ responses to the self-evaluation questions.

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