As we inch closer to the new decade, it’s going to be incredibly important for women to take a hard look at how they can move the needle when it comes to their careers.
Recent research has revealed some sobering facts about gender parity in promotions. For example, a study by LeanIn.Org and McKinsey & Co, yielded some disturbing findings about women’s prospects for advancement in the workplace. Although both men and women said they wanted to be promoted in about equal numbers (75% and 78% respectively), women are significantly less likely to proceed to the next level in their organization.
Then there’s a study from PayScale which says that by mid-career, men are 70% more likely to be in executive roles than women. By late career, men are 142% more likely to be in VP or C-suite roles than women.
All of these statistics show that there’s a problem when it comes to women getting promoted. So, what can women do to take a more active role in making sure that they are offered a promotion instead of their male counterparts when the time comes?
1. Seek male and female mentors
Mentoring relationships are learning relationships that only help to broaden your perspective and build on an individual's personal knowledge. Mentor relationships are critical for women as they can serve as a vital resource when it comes to helping women decode organizational dynamics.
Most women seek out female mentors, but it’s just as important, if not more so, to look for male mentors as well. Male mentors provide added benefits for women as it helps them to understand the male perspective (which may complement or conflict with their own). More importantly, through this experience women gain experience in developing an effective
relationship with a male leader.
Often, women seek mentors who are like them, who may understand them. Yet, comfort and growth are not congruent. Seeking a mentor who is different than you (in function, business, gender, and race) may be uncomfortable as it challenges your comfort and assumptions but that is exactly why women need a mentor who is different to excel.
2. Get feedback directly from your boss
Research tells us that women do not receive the same quality of feedback as our male colleagues. Men tend to receive aspirational feedback that prepares them for future roles while women receive transactional feedback on performances completed. It’s incredibly important for women to understand how to get feedback from their managers and key decision-makers by being very specific. For example, if a woman wants to understand how she may be viewed for a senior position, she should ask her manager a specific question such as, “I am interested in the Director of Finance position, as you think about my skills and experience, what are those areas that would be seen as beneficial for that role and what are the areas I should have as a focus
for my development?” The input she receives will be more specific around her strengths and
development areas than if she just asked, “may I have some feedback”.
3. Show how your work impacts the organization’s bottom line
Good performance is what is expected. As one of my mentors shared with me, the good performance just gets you in the game. The next step is to get noticed by key decision-makers. It may help to evaluate (so that you can talk about) how the work you are doing influences key business initiatives and objectives. Do you understand your organization’s two-year plan? How can you contribute? Who needs to know? Showing exactly what your work has achieved on behalf of the organization is important to point out.
4. Broaden your network
Good leaders are curious learners. Having a broad and diverse network helps us broaden our perspective and thinking. The result is that it allows us to be more creative and innovative. The more expansive your network is – from different industries, functions, race, etc., – the more successful you will be. By incorporating what’s worked for your peers when it comes to their success in career development, you can usually garner useful insights that you can then use in your own life.
5. JUST ASK!
Simply put – just ASK! We often hear from the women in our programs that they feel their work should speak for them. The problem with this line of thought is that you really don’t know what your work is saying! Many women feel uncomfortable speaking about themselves and their career desires. I like to remind them that leaders in their organization are always looking at and evaluating the resources available to meet future organizational goals. If you are not sharing your career goals, you cannot be considered.
Then how do you ask, you ask? The first step is to focus on what you bring to the organization, your specific skills, and your abilities. Next, identify how those skills create an impact on the business and its customers. This frames how women can talk about themselves and helps leaders see where they add value. She may say to her manager, “for the past three years, I have created a strong platform for our customer engagement that has allowed our satisfaction scores to increase year after year. I am looking for an opportunity to leverage this experience and have a broader impact.”
If she has a specific position in mind, I would suggest that she follow my advice around feedback with a twist. Often women feel they need to have ALL the requirements. We know that is not the case.
Recently, a woman in our program for mid-career women (LEAD) shared her experience. There was a position posted that would be a promotion for her and she applied. She further thought about the requirements and withdrew her application as she did not have all the requirements. Later that day, one of her male colleagues shared how he was applying for the position. He did not have many of the qualifications, either. Then, the senior leader that this new role reported to reached out to the woman directly to ask why she withdrew her name and added: “we want you this role.” When there is a specific position in mind, consider how your skills and experience will help you be successful in this role.
The big takeaway here is that for women to succeed in their careers they have to act instead of waiting for something to happen to them. That’s why the saying, “you don’t ask, you don’t get” rings true!
Dr. Rosina Racioppi is the CEO and President of WOMEN Unlimited.