Gender differences in employment such as the gender wage gap, the low numbers of women in executive positions, and the scarcity of female tech entrepreneurs attract many different explanations. Many blame discrimination, appalled at the thought that men and women might actually exhibit different behavioral patterns and have different preferences. However, as more and more researchers move beyond discrimination to dig deeper in order to understand the underlying factors which lead to different employment outcomes between men and women, surprising answers arise, indicating that women’s choices and preferences represent the biggest impediments to their professional success.

Selena Rezvani writes in the Washington Post’s Leadership section that women are much less willing to take risks than men. She also thinks that women’s risk aversion is a learned behavior which can be turned around:

Girls learn about risk differently. Risky behavior, girls are told, is dangerous. For many young women, perfection is the more popular state for which to strive. Being simultaneously popular, a top student and pretty becomes a recipe for greatness. As you get older, this ideal morphs into Superwoman syndrome–the pressure to be that strange creature with endless energy who manages to be smart, unflappable, beautiful and selfless. And always at the same time.

Becker’s observations are buttressed by data. HP did its own research showing that women applied for open positions only if they thought they met 100 percent of the job requirements listed, while men applied if they felt they met 60 percent of the requirements. What’s more, internal research conducted at Lloyds TSB showed that while female employees were 8 percent more likely than males to “meet” or “exceed” performance expectations, women tended not to apply for promotions.

In a recent post on overcoming the gender gap in science, I reported on research which suggested that women lack the confidence to take on more challenging subjects in college, such as math and science. The research was optimistic, however, in that certain exercises may do much to help women overcome their self-imposed barriers to success. Many women seem to hold themselves back by struggling with self-doubt. Risk aversion and lack of confidence seem to play a major role in women’s educational and professional decisions. Although, more research is needed to verify this assertion.

When it comes to the gender wage gap, however, the biggest explanatory factor are women’s and men’s choices about what professions to pursue, how many hours to work, and how much time to take off from work. Women still tend to be the ones to stay home to take care of the children. Child-rearing is crucial aspect of human existence. Aside from the many joys that parenthood brings with it, it keeps our species alive. 

Carrie Lukas said it well in her recent post on new research concerning the wage gap:

Society shouldn’t expect men and women to make the same choices when it comes to work and family, and therefore shouldn’t expect them to earn the same amount. Most people get that. It’s time for those in government to catch up.

Ladies, all the respect to you if you make the choices to pursue other aspects of life, such as caring for your children or elderly parents, or pursuing teaching or the arts as professions, over striving for the corner office. You deserve just as much, if not more, respect for those decisions. If, however, you want the corner office but are worried about pursuing that dream, I say: Go for it, Girl! Don’t let your fears hold you back. You are powerful beyond imagination.