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A Vote of Overconfidence


Our nation's leadership is in shambles and plagued by controversies. As we look at our government which we love to hate it's valid to ask yourself, how did we get here? Why are so many of our politicians not only unbelievably incompetent but repulsive men?

Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic actually wrote a book about this topic, he brings up the fact that if you google the search phrase “my boss is…” almost every recommended search will be negative. As odd as it is to consider, people have a tendency to hate authority figures. We hate our bosses and we hate our politicians. They are rarely famous for their integrity and good leadership skills, they are famous for their negative qualities and their stupid decisions or statements. From his data analysis, Chamorro-Premuzic found that the number one reason we elect or promote individuals is for their perceived confidence. Whilst confidence is a good quality on its own, often overconfident individuals rise to the top. Associated with this are qualities we can unanimously agree are bad; arrogance, delusion and reckless decision making. In Australia and in most countries around the world we elect men who embody these negative characteristics, they don't do self-reflection and they have a level of entitlement which is out of this world.

Wiebke Bleidorn conducted a study of almost one million men and women from 45 different countries asking them to rate their confidence and found that universally women will rate themselves as being less confident than their male counterparts. In Western developed countries such as America and Australia, the confidence gap was even more pronounced, women thought less of themselves compared to men. Bleidorn believes that the reason the gap is bigger in Western countries is because in egalitarian societies men are still paid more than women and have more successful careers, which leads women to compare themselves more often, wondering why they aren't as successful and therefore often have lower confidence. When the world looks equal on a superficial level women often experience feelings of inadequacy as there is no clear reason why they aren’t as successful. Because we love electing confident people and there is a clear confidence gap, women are underrepresented in areas where we value assertiveness, mainly management and politics.

Further entrenching inequality is the fact that overconfident men seek more overconfident men to join their executive boys’ clubs, furthering the cycle of male dominated government and management. Research by Natalie Galea and Louise Chappell found that men take on attitudes of denial, insisting that women are simply not interested in working in certain industries or in positions of power. Having such a lack of diversity in government especially, where our leaders should act as role models has created a level of entitlement and exceptionalism. Incompetent men are arrogant men who believe they can get away with anything. This has serious ramifications, especially surrounding occurrences with Christian Porter.

Larissa Andelmann and several other lawyers argue that there is a standard in workplaces— an independent inquiry into the rape allegations facing our Attorney General would not be the same thing as a criminal trial which determines guilt. Rather an inquiry simply looks at the probability that something occurred without any legal consequences for the individual. Workplace investigations are commonplace for any allegations of misconduct and in any other office, one would occur. But because Christian Porter embodies male privilege as do his many of his co-workers, he somehow views himself as being exempt from such proceedings. This isn't an uncommon attitude for our government, with MP Claire O’Neil writing about how she has found parliament to have more male entitlement than any other workplace she's experienced. Maybe we shouldn’t be surprised, we know successful leaders are often bad men, it’s their awfulness that enables them to rise to the top and our male dominated government is what happens when you cram an institution full of toxically masculine people.

It is jarring when we have to face these issues in our own government. To look at the people who represent Australia and to realise how embarrassing they are. To look at people who should be model citizens and visionary leaders, but instead have proven themselves time and time again to be morally bankrupt. Think of Robo Debt, an initiative Christian Porter was behind which led to people committing suicide after receiving their debt notices. The government was fully aware of the fact the scheme was illegal and were warned about the legality countless times. But ultimately, a bunch of privileged white men saw their opportunity to profit off of our most vulnerable populations and knew there would be no consequences for them personally.

We are watching the facade drop from our parliament. But perhaps the worst part is that we know similar things are occurring outside of government in every industry and even at schools and universities. To pretend we don’t teach male entitlement from a young age would be a lie, especially now seeing Chanel Conto’s petition and thousands of testimonies from schoolgirls emerging. Their experiences show that from a young age girls are continuously victimised by boys who view themselves as superior. When we look at the horrific stories shared by what should be our most safe and protected group, we can see not only girls who will carry lifelong trauma with them but boys who have been massively let down by their families and communities.

We need to stop blaming women for being too quiet and encouraging them to adopt negative masculine traits. Time and time again young women take part in leadership programs which encourage them to be assertive, to speak up and to ask for promotions and pay rises. Most men don’t ask for these things, they just receive them. Furthermore, when we know the issue is that men speak over women and dominate conversations, why is it that we place the blame and onus for a solution on women? Surely we should be telling men and training boys not to talk over women, not to interrupt them and not to ‘mansplain’. We have acknowledged that these stereotypical masculine traits of overconfidence and arrogance are bad things, therefore it is bizarre to encourage women to take them on. If we know that arrogant leaders are bad leaders then we should not be telling women to pick up these qualities, we should be telling men to abandon them. One study showed that women only applied for jobs when they felt they had met 8 or 9 of the 10 requirements, whereas men applied when they had met 2 of the 10 requirements. The solution here is not that women should be applying for jobs they aren’t qualified for, it's that employers need to stop hiring unqualified men.

On the other hand, we live in a society that clearly rewards negative leadership qualities and as long as we keep electing overconfident men, women will need to adopt these characteristics in order to succeed. One issue with consistently telling women to “be more confident” is that it’s a double bind. If women take on a ‘masculine’ trait such as overconfidence and arrogance they will be judged far more harshly, with female CEOs 45% more likely to be fired than male CEOs. At the same time, if women are not assertive then they will fall behind and won’t succeed.

If the option is between no female leadership or bad female leadership then how can we hope for a gender equitable future?

Business and politics being dominated by men has always been an issue, one we consistently identify but fail to solve. Maybe now as we see the brutal outcomes which are a direct result of our support of odious men, we as a society will act to find a solution. And maybe, just maybe, it will be a solution which doesn’t blame women for the actions of incompetent men.


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