Climbing the career ladder: The link between personality and promotion

Presented by ANU College of Arts & Social Sciences

This talk explores the ways in which personality traits – especially an individual’s sense of confidence – can determine job promotion outcomes. The model posits that confidence influences the likelihood that an individual will put themselves forward for promotion by shaping the individual's own evaluation of their marginal productivity relative to the job requirements. The crux of this model is that this self-evaluation measure is distinct from an individual's actual marginal productivity, as evaluated by the firm. This construct serves to explain how women’s lower average level of confidence – which is well observed empirically – could have the effect of impeding their career advancements in the workplace.

Data on the Australian workforce collected in the Household, Income and Labour Dynamics in Australia (HILDA) Survey supports the significance of the personality traits in a manner consistent with this hypothesis. Confidence is captured by a psychometric survey instrument known as ‘Achievement Motivation’, which is comprised of ‘hope for success’ and ‘fear of failure’. Hope for success is found to be an important determinant of promotion outcomes. Based on wage data for 2013, Oaxaca decomposition analysis reveals that women’s lower levels of hope for success, relative to that of men, disadvantages their promotional prospects. Furthermore, the analysis also detects that women do not benefit as much as men from displays of confidence, suggesting that gender biases exist in the way that workplaces value and reward this behavioural characteristic.