Women’s Career Progression
There has been a lot of talk about women’s career progression and whether sexism holds it up.
Now, before we start, you will have to forgive me. This is meant to give advice on the world as I perceive it. Women may consider this to be a little sexist or not the way the world should work. However, at least it gives them some insight.
This is meant to be a pragmatic article about dealing with the world as it is and not how it should be. It also comes from someone who was worked in every position in IT Development form trainee programmer through to Chief Information Officer with a department of 80. I promoted people and watched others promote.
First of all the girl who wants to make a career out of short skirts and low cut blouses can forget it. Sure, you can make an impact on senior management, but it won‘t trigger them to promote you.
You may even get the boss to say too much at the office party or at after-work drinks, but don‘t think that you are now his confidente. All he‘ll think the next day is ‘Oh my God, she knows too much. She‘s got to go!’
So that‘s that one gone for a start.
Glass Ceiling on Women’s Career Progression
Women talk about there being a glass ceiling at work. They say that there is less problem getting jobs now, but that it still limits their promotion prospects. Many blame this on the male culture at companies and the fact that they may have to miss out on the pub sessions and even, in extremes, the lap-dancing visits.
They say this holds back women’s career progression.
From my observations I wouldn‘t say that this was the cause of it. Ilthough I do agree it is true that there is still a glass ceiling in many places. After all, I don’t observe that males who go to the pub with the boss are more likely to get promotion than those who don‘t.
In fact, thinking back to those I promoted and those I saw get promotion, I would say that those who went to the pub were less likely to get promotion.
So what are the reasons then. Also, how should women get around these or even use them to their advantage.
Perceptions of Professional Women
I think that the real reason for lack of women’s career progression is more deep rooted in perceptions. There would be very few managers who would admit to having a sex discrimination policy at work. Most believe that they operate a non-discriminatory policy. That’s even if the evidence is to the contrary.
The problem is that what they perceive as leadership qualities are generally those that male staff members possess.
The other problem is that when they think of a leader in their minds eye it will probably be someone male who comes to mind. The more males there are in leadership positions the more that this reinforces the stereotype of the type of person who should be in this type of role.
Women’s career progression is held up by this perception, conscious or not.
One of the best ways to break down sexual or racial discrimination is to actually show women or black people in particular roles on television. It is not just co-incidence that in the law and in other areas racial and sexual discrimination is being broken down by showing female and black lawyers and judges.
When people see them on TV, it is no longer a big problem when they encounter them in real life. The stereotype has been broken down. It is more inclusive.
How Women Can Get Promotion to Senior Levels
So what can a woman do best at work to get promotion in a place where most of those in senior positions are males?
If she starts to think that this is just the way it is, or rails against it, that won‘t help.
The best way is just to hold a mirror up to those who promote. Very few of them, if any, are actually consciously discriminating against women. In fact if you actually accused them of doing so they wouldn‘t believe it to be true. They would take offence at the very idea of it. That’s even though they have only promoted men in the past.
So women can use this to their advantage.
The best thing to do is to actually ask them what the company‘s policy on promoting women is. Then to ask them which women they have promoted in the past.
I knew one guy who had hired 27 people and none of those were women. He had never promoted any that were there. His excuse was that he was always looking to promote good women, but they just weren‘t there. He didn‘t believe he was discriminating at all. He believed he was promoting on the basis of leadership and technical ability all the time.
Women Getting Promotion in Organisations
The best way to get promotion in such an organisation is to either go elsewhere or break them down by asking them in the first place what their policy is on the matter. Constantly hold their promotions up to them.
Every time a male member of staff gets promotion, when the woman members of staff is a candidate, she should be into the boss‘s office to remind him that she is still there. She should remind him that once again a male member of staff has got a promotion.
This shouldn‘t be on an over-aggressive manner. It should be just be in a way to point out to the boss that although she accepts that he doesn‘t consciously sexually discriminate when promoting that perhaps he subconsciously discriminates. Maybe he promotes according to stereotypes.
She should point out that she enjoys working for the company but that she wants a career and that he should ‘use her or lose her‘, i.e. that her patience isn‘t going to last forever.
Equal Hiring Policy
I‘ve had this used on me, and believe me it works. Although I had instigated a policy of hiring on a more equal basis when I took over the IT department at one company, I hadn‘t actually promoted any women in my first few appointments.
One woman pointed this out and asked me if she was a candidate for promotion in the future. I told her that I thought that she was. She said that she was glad to know that I thought that but that she was ambitious. However, she wouldn‘t want to accept the situation indefinitely.
She was quite smart here – and quite polite about it. So she made her point, which I took. If she had gone further and actually made threats or offered me an ultimatum as others did, in other circumstances, I couldn‘t have accepted it.
I couldn‘t have backed down. It would be as sure as hell that they would tell everyone afterwards how they got their promotion by threatening their boss. Everyone is on the lookout for the best ways to get advantage and they would have all tried it on then.
Monitoring the Promotion Situation
As I say though, she was quite smart and merely intimated that she would be monitoring the situation. A few months down the line she got her promotion and deservedly so.
When the last round of promotions were going on she had been off in the later stages of pregnancy having a baby. I needed project leaders and project managers right away for the new projects.
She asked me if it was because of her pregnancy that I had skipped over her for promotion. One instinctively felt that this was a question that I should answer in the negative. I won‘t fill you in here as to whether I was replying completely truthfully or not.
Suffice to say she got her promotion a few months down the line at a time when I could justify it and when I could say that it wasn‘t as a result of threats, but something I had planned anyway when the right opportunity came up.
Gave No Ultimatum
Believe me, this is the way to do it. If she had given me an ultimatum I couldn‘t have backed down.
Three other times I was given ultimatums which led to all two of the people leaving the company and then our having to work out a ruse for keeping the third one at the company who had given me an ultimatum and who we wanted to keep, whilst not making it appear that I had backed down to an ultimatum.
The pragmatic way is the best way!
Women’s career progression, in a perfect world, should happen automatically.
However, in this imperfect world, and until we get where we should be, this might be good advice on how to advance women’s careers in IT.
What are your thoughts?