Corporate Diary: What can women do to thrive in corporates

It’s about time women get the recognition they deserve on the corporate ladder. It’s important to acknowledge that women are just as capable as men are, maybe more in some instances. Some studies suggest they are better leaders 1, 2. However, we can’t deny the fact that their proportions in senior roles is less than duly deserved. I have always tried as much as possible to promote them when merited, sponsor their case strongly when needed. More importantly, groom them and provide constructive feedback on what efforts they require to take, effectively in the right direction, to increase their chances. Having led many teams and gone through the promotion process for countless candidates in different organization, I saw a pattern of behaviors that could be holding them back. This is certainly not any attempt to generalize – so it doesn’t apply to all women and may very well apply to some men. The goal here is to share perspective from the other side; in the hope that someone benefits from it.

Typical notion is that the reasons for their under representation in senior roles are gender stereotypes, discrimination, bias and/or their work-life imbalance. These do exist. Luckily though, quite a few organizations are trying to fix them, in both, hiring and promotions. However, I personally believe it’s a reactive approach which still costs women at least a couple of years of delay every step of their way up. Some things may also happen without realization. I was once helping a woman candidate with her promotion form. Since it was the year when she due for a promotion, she was trying to do many additional duties in the organization, assuming they will help. However, when I probed deeper, I noticed she was spending 25%+ time in non-productive tasks. No one else in the team was doing them. Ideally, she should speak up and suggest sharing these duties. In a supportive, collaborative company / department culture, her suggestion will most likely be considered fair, and the manager will take appropriate action. Even if the team environment is not conducive, speaking up and engaging others, as needed, can lead to a positive change in culture. I wrote more about that in another article – http://akshaykunkulol.me/blogs/corporate-diary-be-the-change-catalyst/. Sometimes women don’t speak up 3 for the fear of being viewed as someone who shirks boring tasks, and/or that her colleagues may talk negatively about her, in her absence. Assume positive intent. Assess tasks’ importance, speak up and it’s OK to say no.

Many teams often have more than one star performer. A reporting manager is always challenged with promoting based on ‘slots’ organization may have. This often leads to a sort of queue that gets built up. I have noticed men asking early, sometimes even when they don’t deserve, whereas women either don’t ask or ask couple of years after they were ready. I have seen numerous cases of this myself. In a feedback session for a mentee who wasn’t reporting to me, when I questioned – why wouldn’t you ask, she said – “my work will speak for itself”. Well….Good work is the basis. But not asking makes managers (wrongly) believe that person is content with current setup and hence someone else can be prioritized for offerings. There is certainly a point of view, including mine, that there shouldn’t even be need for asking. A leader’s role is to recognize talent, potential and reward based on merit (not based on how content someone is in the team) and groom them to next level. To be a successful leader, you’d need to train yourself to do this without bias. However, the world we live in, not every manager is a leader and some of them are learning to be a better one. Point here is – Ask for it. Title, Role, Raise.

I also noticed some women are extremely hard workers, highly skilled and natural leaders. They often simply become indispensable part of the team. This is a great situation to be in. You have – what the management calls – leverage. Often though, this gets unused. Every manager likes having such stars in the team, however, only a few leaders identify this potential and groom them to succeed. Few years ago, when I saw someone like that, even with less experience than was required on paper, I was advocating the case for her promotion. She was startled. If you are a female professional who feels that you are more than capable of handling a higher position, it may be time to request a promotion. You should prepare points outlining why you are ready for the next level in your career and reach out to your seniors. At least, you will get appropriate feedback early and manager will know to involve you in visible initiatives to feed your ambition. When you have leverage, use it.

I know some women readers may still feel they can’t implement the above things. It’s understandable; my suggestion for you to seek guidance from a very senior woman mentor whose values align with yours. They will help to ease you in. Almost all women Directors and Managing Directors nowadays back mentees very strongly – however junior you may think you are. If you can find a mentor, that’s great, but if not, look for other ways to network. Participating in various discussions, conferences, and speeches can be helpful. Listen to the different voices and learn how they climbed their career ladder.

Men readers – It’s important not to overlook the importance of creating a supportive, collaborative, and equitable environment within the company. Leaders must consciously check for any hidden gender biases during hiring or promoting. If anything, mentor them, sponsor their cases. You will not only be seen as diversity champions but also have committed stars in the teams.

Citations:

  1. Are Women Better Leaders than Men? by Jack Zenger and Joseph Folkman (2012) Available at: https://hbr.org/2012/03/a-study-in-leadership-women-do
  2. Research: Women Are Better Leaders During a Crisis by Jack Zenger and Joseph Folkman (2020) Available at: https://hbr.org/2020/12/research-women-are-better-leaders-during-a-crisis
  3. Women Are Afraid to Speak Up? Really? by James R. Detert, Ethan R. Burris, and David A. Harrison. (2010) Available at: https://hbr.org/2010/06/women-speak-up-less-than-men-really?

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