Original Research

Gender differences in self-perception accuracy: The confidence gap and women leaders’ underrepresentation in academia

Tessie H.H. Herbst
SA Journal of Industrial Psychology | Vol 46 | a1704 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/sajip.v46i0.1704 | © 2020 Tessie H.H. Herbst | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 26 June 2019 | Published: 24 February 2020

About the author(s)

Tessie H.H. Herbst, Academic Leadership Development and Research, Tshwane University of Technology, Pretoria, South Africa


Orientation: The study reported here explores the preconceived notion of women’s missing agency – characterised by a lack of confidence – as an explanation for their continued underrepresentation at senior leadership levels in higher education institutions (HEIs) in South Africa.

Research purpose: The study investigated gender differences in self-perception accuracy, defined as self-other agreement. The concept of confidence in this article refers to a high degree of self-perception accuracy defined as self-other rating agreement.

Motivation for the study: One of the reasons for the underrepresentation of women in senior leadership levels frequently cited in the literature is the relationship between self-confidence and effective leadership. This phenomenon has however not yet been researched in the context of South African HEIs.

Research approach/design and method: A quantitative, cross-sectional study of gender differences in self-perception accuracy using data collected from a 360-degree assessment intervention amongst the total population (N = 112) of academic managers in a HEI in South Africa was conducted. The realised sample consisted of 74 managers with an average of 9.5 raters per participant.

Main findings: The results revealed that significant gender differences with regard to self-perception accuracy emerged. This was in spite of the fact that male and female leaders were perceived to be equally effective by their raters.

Practical/managerial implications: The implications of women leaders’ inaccurate self-perceptions on their career progression and the design of leadership development programmes aimed at improving gender disparity are discussed.

Contribution/value-add: This study contributes to scientific knowledge regarding the factors that contribute to the slow advancement of women to senior leadership positions in HEIs.


self-confidence; gender; higher education; leadership; 360-degree feedback; self-perception accuracy


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