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Women are 21 per cent less likely to be promoted – Week 16

Women are 21% less likely to be promoted than men

This month in Feminst Fact Friday I’m focusing on BEHAVIOUR—all the ways in which women’s behaviour is judged more severely than men’s, or the way typically male behaviours are rewarded and typically female behaviours are penalised. Over the previous two weeks I’ve covered how women are more likely to be perceived as “too aggressive” (and penalised for it) and 29% more likely to be forced to take on office “housework” that does nothing to bolster their career prospects.

This week in Feminist Fact Friday I’m examining the fact that women are far less likely than men to be promoted — in spite of the likelihood that they’re more qualified* — and that this is likely to be down to performance bias as multiple studies** have found that “we tend to overestimate men’s performance and underestimate women’s. As a result, men are often hired and promoted based on their potential, while women are often hired and promoted based on their track record.”

Where does this data come from? It’s in the most recent Lean In and McKinsey & Company Women in the Workplace report, covering 279 companies employing more than 13 million people, alongside 64,000 employees who were surveyed on their experiences. I’d urge you to take a look at the report in full, particularly as it breaks down experiences by sexuality, race and ethnicity too, giving a detailed view of the different levels of inequality. For example, for every 100 men who are promoted, only 79 women will be promoted – but for black women that figure sinks to a shamefully low 60.

Why is this important?

As the authors of the report state in the introduction to their research

Women continue to be vastly underrepresented at every level. For women of color, it’s even worse. Only about one in five senior leaders is a woman, and one in twenty-five is a woman of color.

I’m focusing on this statistic for the final article in my BEHAVIOUR series because it’s clear that this inequality continues in spite of women’s best efforts in the workplace.

Women are doing their part. They’ve been earning more bachelor’s degrees than men for decades. They’re asking for promotions and negotiating salaries at the same rates as men. And contrary to conventional wisdom, they are staying in the workforce at the same rate as men.

For every ten men in management, there are only six women – this is a self-sustaining imbalance as managers continue to hire people like them. And it’s particularly important that we combat this imbalance because “the two biggest drivers of the pipeline are hiring and promotions.” The report is peppered with qualitative and quantitate data that shows there is a chasm between how fair men and women perceive their workplace to be – which chimes perfectly with one of last week’s facts: “studies have shown that a belief in your own personal objectivity, or a belief that you are not sexist, makes you less objective and more likely to behave in a sexist way. ***

There are huge discrepancies in the way inequality is perceived and in the way it’s experienced and that’s down to having workplaces that remain unwelcoming to women and minority groups:

Women are less optimistic than men about their company’s efforts to curb inappropriate behavior. As one example, 32% of women say that disrespectful behavior toward women is often quickly addressed by their company, compared to 50% of men. […] 55% percent of women in senior leadership, 48% of lesbian women, and 45% of women in technical fields report they’ve been sexually harassed.

Fighting this continued bias is key to making the workplace a safer, more productive place for everyone. And though women start out in the careers just as ambitious as men, it takes just two years in a sexist company for that ambition to be knocked out of them as the appearance of carbon copy managers makes it clear that the women just don’t fit the mould. ^

What can you do about it?

As always: start by informing yourself. Read the Lean In and McKinsey & Company Women in the Workplace 2018 report (it’s not as dry as the word ‘report’ makes it sound), in particular the facts on minority groups and how badly they’re treated.

Go back through the previous Feminist Fact Friday themes, find a cause that makes you angry and then start finding a way to fight it, no matter how small.

Pick up a copy of The Glass Wall for further examples of men and women in the workplace and how differently they’re treated.

Wherever you work think about how you might be treating people differently. Reflect on the language you use to describe people or the opportunities you offer them. Whether you’re in management or not, you’re in a position to effect change just by calling out bias when you see it and thinking carefully about potential solutions. If you notice that you’re not seeing enough diverse candidates for new roles bring it up with HR, if you wonder why office housework is always going to women on the team then say something. If people use gendered language think about how you can point that out. ^^


Lean In and McKinsey & Company Women in the Workplace 2018

* For example, in Gender gap in UK degree subjects doubles in eight years, Ucas study finds “Women outnumber men in 112 of 180 degree subjects, with females from poorer backgrounds 50% more likely to go to university than their male counterparts”

** Corinne A. Moss-Racusin et al., “Science Faculty’s Subtle Gender Biases Favor Male Students,” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 109, no. 41 (2012): 16474–79; Rhea E. Steinpreis, Katie A. Anders, and Dawn Ritzke, “The Impact of Gender on the Review of Curricula Vitae of Job Applicants and Tenure Candidates: A National Empirical Study,” Sex Roles 41, nos. 7–8 (1999): 509–28; Madeline E. Heilman and Michelle C. Hayes, “No Credit Where Credit Is Due: Attributional Rationalization of Women’s Success in Male-Female Teams,” Journal of Applied Psychology 90, no. 5 (2005): 905–26; Joan C. Williams and Rachel Dempsey, What Works for Women at Work: Four Patterns Working Women Need to Know (New York: NYU Press, 2014).

*** Quoted from Criado-Perez’s Invisible Women: Eric Luis Uhlmann and Geoffrey L. Cohen in Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes “I think it, therefore it’s true”: Effects of self-perceived objectivity on hiring discrimination Volume 104, Issue 2, November 2007, Pages 207-223

^ Gadiesh and Coffman writing in Harvard Business Review Companies Drain Women’s Ambition After Only 2 Years 18 May 2015

^^ Michael J. Coren writing in Quartz Recordings of VCs talking about investments shows why women founders have such a hard time 23 May 2017