October 20, 2011
The real reason women don't get ahead
Perhaps this week, when handing your supervisor a token gift for National Boss Day, you made a mental note to up your professional game so that one day you, too, could be one of the bigwigs.
[Flickr photo by shimelle]
Maybe you thought to yourself, It's time I pressed my boss for a more challenging project. Maybe you decided to let your boss know just how ambitious you are and that you're willing to put in the extra hours to make your career goals a reality. Maybe you vowed to start strengthening your rapport with not just your own manager, but his or her manager, too. Or maybe you started scanning LinkedIn for better opportunities outside your company.
All are savvy career tactics -- that is, if you're a man. If you're a woman, it's more of a crapshoot.
According to a new report by Catalyst, a nonprofit that advocates for women in business, what's good for the professional goose is not necessarily good for the gander. In studying popular career-advancement strategies among 3,345 highly ambitious MBA graduates, Catalyst found that "the strategies adopted by high-potential women had little bearing on the rate at which they advanced to leadership," while "men who applied the most proactive career strategies advanced further than other men."
Specifically, Catalyst notes the following discrepancies among the sexes:
Women are paid for performance, men are paid for potential. By now, the wage gap among the sexes has been well-documented. Same goes for the leadership gap. But Catalyst's study brings to light another discrepancy: Women are rewarded for proving they can perform, while men are simply rewarded for their potential. Case in point: Women who switched jobs at least twice after earning their MBA made $53,472 less than women who stayed with their first post-MBA employer and climbed the ladder there. Conversely, men who moved on from their first post-MBA employer made $13,743 more than men who stayed with the same employer.
Negotiating for more doesn't lessen the pay or position gap. After receiving their MBA, both sexes negotiated for more pay and a better position to an equal degree, with 63% of women and 54% of men asking for more money, and 19% of women and 17% of men pushing for a more prominent job title. Besides the above discrepancies in how women and men are compensated, Catalyst research in 2008 found that women go into their first post-MBA job earning $4,600 less than men. By the middle of their career, this pay gap widens to $31,258. And Catalyst's current report found that among the most proactive professionals, 21% of men advanced to leadership, while only 11% of women did.
The "women downshift to make babies" argument doesn't hold water. All the high achievers examined in this study worked full-time after receiving their MBA without any breaks for self-employment, part-time work, family, travel, or other pursuits. Yet the women reported being less satisfied than the men with their career trajectory overall. "If women were intentionally seeking slower tracks," Catalyst notes, "we would expect them to be as satisfied as men despite their slower advancement."
The strategies that benefit men don't necessarily benefit women. A majority of the men and women in Catalyst's study employed "the full range of advancement strategies attributed to an ideal worker," many of them mentioned at the top of this post. Half of those workers were also on the lookout for bigger and better job opportunities within and outside their organization. Yet given the pay, promotion, and career satisfaction levels reported, the men in the study clearly benefitted more than the women from adopting these strategies.
On the plus side, both women and men saw equal amounts of advancement from working on high-profile projects and hobnobbing with powerful people in their business. What's more, the women in the study did benefit more -- in terms of pay, position, and career satisfaction -- by broadcasting their accomplishments to their manager and asking for feedback and credit as appropriate. Men, on the other hand, did not see the same career boost from tooting their own horn. Instead, they boosted their pay and position by keeping abreast of opportunities outside their company and broadcasting their "willingness to work long hours" -- strategies that didn't do much to advance the careers of their female counterparts.
As Catalyst president and CEO Ilene Lang put it, "This study busts the myth that women don't ask. In fact, they do! But it doesn't get them very far. Men, by contrast, don't have to ask. What's wrong with this picture?"
And what's the solution?
At some point, we have to stop expecting ambitious women to beat their heads against the wall. Lang and Catalyst suggest corporations take a long, hard look at who they're rewarding and why -- and whether they're indeed coaching and rewarding male and female workers differently. Sure, both women and men need to manage their own career and gauge which career advancement strategies suit them best. But as Lang reminds us, "[O]rganizations must learn how to attract, develop, and retain high-potential women -- or risk losing out to their competitors."
Karen Burns is the author of The Amazing Adventures of Working Girl, a career guide based on her 59 jobs over 40 years in 22 cities.
Lisa Quast is a certified career coach, mentor, business consultant, former corporate executive and author based in the Seattle area.
Randy Woods writes about job-search tools, networking techniques and other tips to help you land your dream job.
Matt Youngquist is the president of Career Horizons, a career counseling firm.
Natalie Singer is a Seattle writer, editor and small-business owner.
Michelle Goodman is the author of "My So-Called Freelance Life" and "The Anti 9-to-5 Guide."
Paul Anderson helps professionals in transition find their desired employment.
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