The Broken Ladder: Gender Barriers at the First Steps of a Career
Career and self-realization
What do we think of the problems of career growth and professional realization in women? It is customary to talk about the problem of the “glass ceiling”, a metaphor for the invisible barrier in promoting women to high positions, the lack of women in leadership, unequal pay between the sexes, and the balance of career and family.
However, a recent five-year study by McKinsey and LeanIn among 22 million people and 590 companies revealed a new root in the gender imbalance problem. The bottom line is that long before women reach the top echelon of managers, women are faced with problems at the very beginning of the career ladder. It all starts much earlier than it may seem to you, namely from the first level of leaders, where women are often “ordered”.
In practice, it looks like this – a woman is offered a job in a call center instead of working with key customers, an accountant instead of a financial manager, the fate of an ordinary designer instead of an art director. At the same time, all entry-level employees are approximately equal: they do not have long lists of achievements, the same work experience, and all of them are good enough to be equally considered for promotion.
However, for every 100 men who receive their first promotion, there are only 72 women, and this imbalance only increases over the years. Either men are more talented, more industrious, and more ambitious than women, or is something unfair happening?
Are women themselves to blame?
Often you hear that the thing is the lack of ambition in women. However, in fact, 71% of women want career advancement, 29% say so, and 21% ask for higher salaries. You will be surprised, but these figures almost completely coincide with the percentage of men. However, as before, 45% of personnel specialists and 21% of men surveyed believe that the problem is the lack of sufficient qualifications for women.
These attitudes lead to the fact that “popular” work with large teams and budgets is more likely to be given to a man than a woman, without regard to her competencies. But this work, in turn, is more likely to be noticed by top managers and becomes the springboard for more significant tasks.
As you can see, there is no good reason why women and men are promoted in a ratio of almost 1: 2, but there is one explanation – bias and, as a result, “a broken ladder”. Starting from this initial broken rung of the career ladder, women cannot climb fast enough to catch up.
3 reasons that women themselves highlight
We give the floor to women who see other causes of the “broken” situation, namely:
- Women are evaluated at work by other standards. What are these “other standards”? Sociological studies have revealed our general tendency to overestimate the activities of men, and women’s achievements – to underestimate. As a result of this, women need to present the achieved results to increase, while men can be evaluated for their potential, that is, in fact, for future achievements. It is this that often gives rise to an unconscious bias regarding the abilities of women at work, both among women themselves and those who make decisions.
- Women do not have “sponsors” in the company who would support them with their recommendation. Who are the sponsors and why are they so important? The difference in sponsors and mentors is that sponsors are senior executives in the same company who actively offer a person to promote, contributing to his career. Unlike mentors, who mainly offer informal assistance, sponsors represent the interests of their proteges when large projects or career opportunities appear.
- Women are less likely to take a managerial position. Women actually have less credibility in the organization to lead people. The situation may vary in the areas of retail, banks, technology, distribution, the health system, production, engineering, but the trend continues: the percentage of women at the manager level is definitely lower than men.
But not everything is definitely bad. Some companies provide leadership-level training for promising young leaders. This can be personal plans, coaching programs for the development of managerial skills and, at the same time, research on various career paths.
However, much more needs to be done to improve the situation. This may include the introduction of appropriate policies, and the requirement of equal proportions of women and men for career promotions, and the conduct of appropriate impartiality training for those who select candidates for the role of managers, and transparent criteria for promotion, and, of course, special leadership programs for women and men, to give equal opportunities to be considered for leadership positions.
McKinsey estimates that if companies continue to achieve a tiny but small increase in the number of women they promote and hire in leadership positions each year, another thirty years will pass before the gap between men and women managers at level one is narrowed.
The conclusion is that women in a “broken ladder” still have to build a career with their own hands and support other women. But what if, instead of hoping for changes in companies, they promote the advancement of women in the workplace themselves? Just think, what can we do if we don’t wait, but we will work using the new strategy?
3 ways to break the “glass ceiling”
- An honest look at the situation and the creation of conditions. Try, other things being equal, to choose women and actively participate in the selection process. According to research, adding women to the group increases the likelihood of choosing a female candidate. Contribute to creating an environment where the organization will promote a culture of diversity and rewards for results, rather than a race to prove its worth. If you are a leader, try to increase the number of women for future advancement without stereotypes.
- Role models for women. Before the eyes of young women, the role models of successful women are not enough to equal. If you are a woman, become such a model for young people, share your story of success and mistakes, bring your perspective, become a mentor in leadership competencies and contribute to the career of your proteges.
- Competition with oneself. This principle is universal, but relevant especially for women. Do not think that you are competing with your male colleagues. Just compete with the past itself, noting your progress and successes. To do this, be more visible when speaking about your merits and abilities openly, let this be a challenge to be awarded.
If you follow these principles, everyone will benefit: personally, you will get a sense of impartiality, professional implementation, honesty. Business will win, as employees will see an honest attitude and their loyalty will grow, and employee satisfaction will lead to improved morale and business results.
Knowing what the problem is, it is already impossible to forget. We think that each of us can be guided by the imperative of equal opportunities and correct the “broken” ladder.
about the author
Nadezhda Deshkovets – business consultant, certified transformational coach (Erickson Institute of Coaching, Canada), mentor, TEDx speaker, co-founder and trainer of leadership school. Her .