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Self-esteem at work: does gender play a role?

Self-esteem plays a significant role in how men and women may view themselves in the workplace, and one’s perceptions regarding his or her abilities, skills, and motivation can trigger varied approaches on the job. But what are these differences and why do they exist? Perhaps we need to look further than job titles.


Morris Rosenberg, an expert in the field, describes self-esteem as “either a favourable or unfavourable attitude toward the self”1. More specifically, self-esteem refers to “a person’s overall sense of his or her value or worth. It can be considered a sort of measure of how much a person values, approves or appreciates, prizes, or likes him or herself.”2

Self-esteem differs from self-confidence, which is rather “the trust in yourself and your ability to deal with challenges, solve problems, and engage successfully with the world”3, but they are closely linked. While self-confidence relies on external measures of success and value, self-esteem focuses on internal contributions. One can be highly confident in one area or skillset and still suffer from low self-esteem. If low self-esteem is impeding success, it may be the subconscious that is engaging in behaviours that are undermining one’s achievements.

For all genders, self-esteem challenges can manifest in many ways, including:

  • Feeling sensitive and easily angered or irritated
  • Feeling concerned about pleasing others
  • Feeling that your opinion isn’t important or valued
  • Doubting your decisions
  • Experiencing anxiety, sadness and worthlessness
  • Experiencing difficulty with relationships
  • Avoiding taking risks or trying new things
  • Engaging in addictive or avoidance behaviours
  • Experiencing difficulty with establishing boundaries
  • Holding a pessimistic outlook on life


While more women now work in traditionally male-dominant environments such as transportation, mining, police forces, manufacturing and construction, research shows that differences persist in the way that women and men feel about their roles. For instance, studies show that women more frequently express feeling like they don’t deserve their job or merit their title. They tend to worry more about being disliked, and about not being as smart as others within their fields. Although men doubt themselves too, they are less likely to allow their doubts to interfere with their goals.4


Findings after many years of research on the differences between how young boys and girls are nurtured prove that the developmental years greatly affect the way today’s workplace perceptions are formed. Based on boys’ propensity to participate in team sports, they later tend to see the world as a hierarchy where value is placed on authority and following orders. Men typically function well in environments where rules and orders are clearly stipulated and the ultimate goal and driving force is to acquire “more”.5

On the other hand, young girls are typically encouraged to engage in what the research refers to as “process play” or “relationship play”. These activities include, for example, playing house, nurse and teacher, where there is no winner or loser and no final score.6 What is learned from relationship play significantly differs from that of team play — learning how to share, treat others nicely, avoid conflict, build and maintain relationships, cooperate, avoid risks and ensure everyone is happy and has a part, outweighs who will win at the end.7 Later in life, it remains important for the majority of women to be part of an equal playing field where everyone works together and gets along.


It’s important to note that the result of men and women’s different behaviours and beliefs in the workplace present a diverse set of skills to draw from in any industry. Including both men and women in senior-level discussions, decision making and problem solving processes will allow the most creative and effective approaches to emerge. All strengths and styles should be encouraged and diverse opinions embraced in order to capitalize on the gender differences that exist in most workplaces. This will help to create a healthier and stronger work environment for both men and women.

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1. https://positivepsychologyprogram.com/self-esteem/
2. https://positivepsychologyprogram.com/self-esteem/
3. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/hide-and-seek/201205/building-confidenceand-self-esteem
4. http://www.paulineroseclance.com/impostor_phenomenon.html
5. https://careers.redventures.com/blog/2015/11/18/5-major-differences-between-menand-women-at-work/
6. https://careers.redventures.com/blog/2015/11/18/5-major-differences-between-menand-women-at-work/
7. https://careers.redventures.com/blog/2015/11/18/5-major-differences-between-menand-women-at-work/