Earlier this year I had been eyeing up a promotion opportunity for Senior Editor with my company. When COVID hit, my company transitioned to remote work and we are likely to stay remote long-term. I’m nervous that my opportunity to move into a senior position is lost. I’m a mom of three and my children occasionally pop into video calls. (My colleagues laugh but I worry it’s sending the “wrong signals.”) What can I do to keep progressing through my career?
Your question assumes a reason to doubt your level of promotability. If the reason to doubt is due to being a mom of three, then stop right there. Because you’re right, and not for the reasons you may think.
Moms—and women more generally—go to great lengths to make themselves appear more promotable because they are operating inside a biased system that doesn’t value them equitably.
Try this: Search Google for “how to be promoted as a woman.” Then search for “how to be promoted as a man.” Notice any differences among the results?
The first search will generate suggestions that tell ambitious, hardworking women who want promotions that they need to:
- “Be smart”
- “Follow orders”
- “Let go of victim mentality”
- “Dress the part”
- “Not be macho”
- “Do homework”
This is real advice I’ve seen given to working women and aspiring young professionals alike. That’s troubling because this type of advice reinforces the notion that women are broken. They’re not. The system is broken, and we must fix it rather than try to thrive within it.
Meta evidence exposing the broken system
For every 100 men promoted or hired to a managerial position, only 72 women (in aggregate) are promoted or hired. The gap widens when intersected with race and ethnicity. Only 58 Black women are promoted to manager for every 100 men, and only 68 Latinas are promoted to manager for every 100 men. Perhaps that’s why a mere 46% of women versus 51% of men believe promotion criteria are fair and objective.
And here’s further evidence exposing the nuances of our broken system:
1. Likeability and success are negatively correlated for women. When high-achieving women exhibit forceful or aggressive leadership qualities deemed admirable for men, they are punished both socially and professionally.
2. Women receive nicer, more useless feedback than men. Evaluators soften their words when giving feedback to women because they perceive them as more vulnerable and less emotionally stable than men.
On a side note: When BCG set out to address the gender retention gap at their firm, they found that high-potential, mid-career women who left the firm scored this statement the lowest: “I am satisfied with the apprenticeship and feedback I received.”
3. Women spend more time on non-promotable tasks than men. This includes office housework, sitting on a low-rank committee, and performing repetitive assignments. It’s not necessarily because women want these tasks, however. It’s because they are asked to do them 44% more frequently. In the words of one professional, “I am going to be in a wheelchair by the time I get to be vice president because they are going to drill me into the ground with all these extra-credit projects.”
We’ve been entertaining the concept of promotion inequity for over a decade now. In fact, Harvard Business Review published research in 2010 titled, Why Men Still Get More Promotions Than Women. Ten years have gone by and what’s changed? We cannot arrive at the year 2030, look back at the decade, and repeat the same chorus or beat the same drum.
So, back to your question. I’m not going to advise you on what you should or shouldn’t do, what you should or shouldn’t say, and what you should or shouldn’t wear to get the promotion you’ve been eyeing up.
What I will tell you is this: you don’t need fixing—the system does. Keep working hard.