Victoria Leyboldt


Motivation is an idea or concept that pushes a person towards achieving their goals. Motivation can be presented in multiple different forms; the two common categories are intrinsic and extrinsic. Intrinsic motivation is when a person’s drive to complete a task or project stems from their own personal achievement or pride, for example, a person finishing a puzzle because it makes them feel accomplished, or a student studying a subject because they are interested in the information rather than studying to receive a good grade (Pintrich, 2003). Extrinsic motivation is a source of encouragement that is sourced from the outside, for example, athletes competing to win an award, or students applying for scholarships for financial gain. Goals can also be categorized in various ways such as personal and professional, as well as, long term and short term (Pintrich, 2003). The way goals are categorized can be different according to an individual’s preferred way of self-organization and motivation. Motivation in the workplace is no different, each team may have various ways in which group members will feel motivated both in a cohesive sense and individual sense.

Gender is an important variable to keep in mind while trying to motivate a team because it can determine a person’s assertiveness (or lack thereof) and in turn create a confidence gap between genders within the workplace. Throughout this analysis, the contrast between the motivation of male and female genders in the United States workplace will be considered and explored due to lack fo research and representation of non-binary, and transgender people.

In 2017 47% of the American workforce consisted of women, while upwards of 10 million women were listed as business owners, and yet there are still gaps in compensation and recognition when it comes to gender differences in the workforce (DeWolf, 2017). As more women join the workforce annually, gender equality in the workforce becomes problematic pushing inequalities between genders to a focus point in discussions in various career fields across the United States. The confidence gap can stem from a variety of inequality variables like unequal pay, unequal representation, social biases, and how boys and girls are raised to believe in themselves. Each of these social inequalities contributes to why women are seemingly less self-assured in their ability to complete tasks or assert their point of view.

Literature Review

One topic that must be discussed and contemplated is the difference between leadership styles according to gender. A study conducted by Pratch and Jacobowitz (1996) found that women in leadership positions are typically more likely to point attention to technical problems, as well as have a higher ability to create interpersonal relationships. In this study, women were also found to have a more preferred leadership style over men, but they were no more or less productive than men. This study also provided information that women who tended to lead in a “masculine” manner were disliked compared to women who presented their leadership style in a “feminine” manner, whereas if a man’s leadership style had hints of stereotypical feminine qualities, their ability to succeed was not compromised (Pratch, & Jacobowitz, 1996). Social biases like stereotypical femininity, or a woman’s assumed competence must always be considered when researchers are comparing the abilities of men and women. A study conducted by Eagly and Johnson in 1990 supports the claims that women in leadership positions often work collaboratively with peers in order to complete a given task. This can be partially drawn to the social biases that women are less able, but collaborative efforts can also offer confidence in women that they are making the correct decision that is supported by their peers. These biases could explain the attribution dispositions that are discussed in Weiner’s Attribution Theory. Weiner’s Attribution Theory discussed how people claim their own success. For example, women are more likely than men to suffer from attribution dispositions, meaning that they are more likely to ascribe their own accomplishments to environmental factors such as “luck” rather than credit their own ability to successfully and competently complete a task (Stipek, 2002). These dispositions have a direct effect on the confidence gap.

Power motivation is the social contrast in the desire to have an effect or impact on other people’s decision-making skills and actions. This subtopic within the discussion of the confidence gap has been studied over time using projective exams that have provided mixed and inconsistent results (Schuh, Bark, Van Quaquebeke, Hossiep, Frieg, & Van Dick, 2014). A sample study conducted by Schuh et.al. (2014) consisted of four trial projects that were intended to determine the relationship between gender, power motivation, and leadership role occupancy. The first study and the second study both focused on university students. The primary analysis consisted of a group of 240 business students (115 men, 125 women) who were around the age of 23, who also studied at the same German university. A 15-item BIP scale based on McClelland’s model of power motivation was used to collect information from the students. The question examples included “‘I derive satisfaction from being able to influence others, I don’t like having to give people orders, [and] I am happy to take responsibility for important decisions,’” and responses were based on a six-point scale (one meaning strongly disagree and six meaning strongly agree)  (Schuh et. al., 2014). The second study completed by this group focused on a group of 61 German university psychology undergraduate students with a large majority of female representation. The study monitored 12-week group projects that consisted of three to five students per group who answered 3 questionnaires (one at the beginning of the project, one at the half waypoint, and one at the end) based off of Chan and Drasgow’s 9-item scale that measures personal desire to guide others (Schuh, et. al. 2014). Sample questions used for these questionnaires askes personal leadership style questions that resembled ‘‘I usually want to be the leader in the groups that I work in’’ (Schuh, et. al. 2014). Both the first and second studies showed that female students were more likely to have less power motivation as a drive for leadership. The female responses showed that women are less confident in their ability to hold a powerful or lead role compared to the men who answered.

The third and fourth studies focused on two different groups of employees. In the first experiment a group of 382 employees, 57% of those employees representing women were tested on their power motivation (Schuh, et. al. 2014). The scale used to measure the results of this sample was Borgogni’s 15-item scale which is similar to the two scales used in the previously mentioned studies. The fourth study consisted of 861 employees (606 men and 225 women) that were tested on the BIP scale and asked to list their past leadership positions (workgroup supervisor, team leader, department manager, director, member of the executive board) and was assigned points for each position (Schuh, et. al. 2014). The results of these two studies resembled the first two in that women overall scored lower than men when it comes to power motivation and role occupancy, even if there was a majority of women in the subject group. Although the results are unsurprising, this study did point to the suggestion that there are strong correlations between both gender and leadership role occupancy, as well as the hierarchy within companies.

If it is true that women tend to express less confidence in their work than men, the next question that must be pondered is: Are women expressing a lack of confidence, or are men expressing overconfidence in their work? Sarsons and Xu offer insight into this question in their research article “Confidence Men? Gender and Confidence: Evidence Among Top                        Economists” (2015). After analyzing data collected from economists that represent top United States universities, the authors put a spotlight on what they call the “wallflower effect” (Sarsons, & Xu, 2015). The wallflower effect in the context of their study signifies a woman’s intentional actions to blend in or avoid being seen as different by voicing a possible opposing opinion. Another variable to consider is that a woman might succumb to the wallflower effect is to avoid being scrutinized by colleagues. Women are also less likely to strongly agree or disagree when responding to various questions than men. If a woman did not consider herself an expert in the subject of the topic question, they did not assert their answer. Men were found to have extreme opinions in most cases, pointing to more confidence in each answer, whereas women tended to be seen as more passive due to their lack of extreme opinion (Sarsons, & Xu, 2015). Although research does show that women are underrepresented and do have a lack of confidence due to various factors, this research makes the important note that it must be kept in mind that one person’s Overconfidence is not to be mistaken for lack of confidence in another.

The contrast between a man and a woman’s ability does not randomly surface when a woman begins to enter adulthood. Biases and stereotypes like these are introduced to children at a young age. Boys and girls are often separated by social norms that can categorize “masculine” vs “feminine” colors, to which sports are for boys and which are for girls, as well as which subjects in school girls should excel in and which boys should excel in. A study conducted by Leaper, et. al. in 2012 investigated young girl’s experience with gender-related beliefs in the subjects math, science, and English in school. This research states that the lack of representation of women in STEM fields is due to a lack of motivation to succeed within those fields. The study found that exposure to feminism, as well as encouragement from peers and parents (along with heritage factors) in the subjects of math and science, determined a girl’s likelihood to have high motivation in math and science (Leaper, et. al. 2012). Teaching confidence and motivation to girls during their adolescent years could be a large determining factor of their leadership style and the amount of confidence a young woman will possess and build upon as she enters adulthood.

Practical Recommendations

Experimental results in confidence gap research have shown that women doubt their own opinions and abilities due to a history of bias, lack of support, and the need for reassurance. As women continue to increase their presence in leadership roles in the workforce it is important for employers to value their female employee’s ideas, opinions, and projects. It is equally as important to encourage progress, offer feedback, and offer credit to women in the workplace where it is due. An article written by Carlin, Gelb, Belinne, & Ramchand, offers areas of improvement that companies can use to do their part in working to close the confidence gap (2018). Deloitte is one company that the researcher used as a positive example in the fight for women’s representation. Deloitte’s top management changed their policies and made it clear to the entire company that it would no longer be acceptable to stereotype women by offering them less intense work, assuming they would not want to take part in business trips, and that women would be expected to benefit as much as men do from their informal mentoring program (Carlin et. al. (2018). As a result of Deloitte’s changes turnover decreased, more women were hired, and existing female figures in the company gained confidence in their work.

To assist in women’s representation and demolishing the confidence gap, employers must determine which work variables motivate their female workers individually, as well as collectively. Employers should also consider hiring more women, peer collaboration, and support projects to increasingly instill confidence in their female employees. For companies to build successful teams they must consider their female employees and how to encourage confidence in their work. A great place for companies to start supporting the women within the workplace would be diminishing small inequalities like unequal time to present ideas, interruptions, as well as allowing female influence within the workspace (Rogers, 2020). These micro-inequalities have a huge impact on how a woman presents her work, how she is self-motivated, and how she feels motivating others around her. By companies taking small steps and creating a space that does not accept these offensive habits and tendencies, the women within the company will begin to feel more motivated and more confident in their ability to succeed.

In an article written by Brittany Karford Rogers, she explains that women often think differently than men in situations. One example is in politics women often focus on social issues and building a successful strategy for the less fortunate while men tend to see more value in prioritizing budgeting or taxes (Rogers, 2020). If companies take this into consideration, using the viewpoint of men paired with the vision that female workers might present could create unique new strategies and business plans that competitors may pass over. This will elevate the working woman’s confidence and motivation by validating their ideas within the company.

The effort to close the confidence gap should not only be the obligation of employers and national companies, but the education system should also implement support systems for young girls. In 2001 Colbeck et. al. conducted a study that found students strengthen their motivation and confidence levels by learning from their teacher’s influence in the classroom. The study showed that even if a student shows self-doubt their academics have a direct effect on the student’s academic success (Colbeck et. al.  2001). The classroom is a great place to introduce confidence-building projects and teach peer support skills that students can take with them into their careers.


Motivation and goals are important prospects for the success of women in the workplace. Women often express a lack of confidence in their ability to competently complete tasks, or actively voice their opinion due to the fear of being scrutinized or standing out. As companies begin to focus on their female employees by actively listening to and encouraging female involvement and participation confidence and motivation within the female workplace will slowly grow and become a new social normal. With confident and independent women in the workplace motivational strategies will change, new ideas will be considered, and creativity will begin to take off. As women’s representation in the workplace continues to increase it becomes more important for the confidence gap between boys and girls must also start at a younger age. With a mixture of the education system implementing a confidence-building curriculum to encourage young women to learn self-assurance and employers putting effort into supporting female figures within their company the confidence gap will eventually be stitched closed.


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Stipek, D. (2002). Motivation to learn: From theory to practice (4th edition). Needham Heights,               MA: Allyn & Bacon.


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