where cutting corners and showboating is routinely rewarded, along with bending the rules in order to score points.
By contrast, girls who fail to conform to expected standards don’t get much of a break. Schools are far more likely to penalize girls for acting out and for aggressive behaviors such as fighting. With boys, these behaviors are often dismissed as a testosterone spurt, but they’re viewed as disgraceful in girls. These attitudes often prevail even in families and schools committed to gender equality.
Such expectations can prompt girls to seek approval by striving to get everything right, avoiding mistakes and dotting every i. In other words, by trying to be perfect. Girls consistently average higher grades than boys, in part because they develop earlier but also in part because doing so is the surest way to earn approval. It’s not that boys don’t get rewarded for good grades, but the boys who receive the most praise are usually the sports stars. As athletes, they are expected to be assertive, show confidence, stand out from the pack, and be bold. After all, a Hail Mary pass is admired even when it fails to hit its intended receiver. What’s the greatest praise an athlete can receive? That he dominated. Valedictorians are never described in those terms.
Executive coach Carlos Marin, quoted in the previous chapter, observes a similar pattern in organizations. “Coaching data and the psychometric surveys we deliver when doing assessments suggest that men at the executive level are most likely to be rewarded for daring and risk-taking,” he says. “Women at similar levels are most likely to be rewarded for precision and correctness.
For example, even in high-stakes executive team meetings, men tend to be comfortable making statements they haven’t necessarily thought through, or even stupid statements. But if a woman says something stupid, she’ll be consumed by embarrassment, even shame, and have a hard time letting it go. She might decide to avoid this by keeping her mouth shut in the future. And then she’ll be criticized for being too cautious or not contributing.