Comparing career management for women and men

This builds on last month’s article about managing your career, by comparing the different approaches to career development for men and women, including a valuable message from one of my clients.

Comparing career management for women and men

Men and women in the workplace

Much has been written about women in business, often focusing on why they don’t attain senior positions in business to the same extent as men. You may have heard about the book Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook, which has been published in the last 12 months and been widely reviewed and discussed.

So, to what extent is it an issue? Here are some interesting statistics:

  • 60% of graduates in all developed countries are female
  • 80% of consumer decisions are made by women
  • Women own 48% of Britain’s personal wealth, predicted to rise to 60% in 2025
  • 96% of Fortune 500 CEOs are men
  • 85% of Board seats in FTSE100 companies are men
  • In the US for every $ earned by a man, a woman earns 77c
  • In Europe, for every euro earned by a man, a woman earns 84c

Why this might be…what happens between graduation and growing to the heady heights of CEO?

This inequality may be because there is a difference in attitudes between men and women at work, which affects their rise:

70% of female respondents rate their own performance as equivalent to their co-workers, while 70% of men rate themselves as higher.
Source: Women matter: Gender diversity, a corporate performance driver (McKinsey report, 2007)

Sheryl Sandberg’s view is that women need to lean in, not lean back:

“It seems women hold themselves back in their career even before they have children, thinking they had better not progress too far as they won’t be able to manage both when the time comes. This self-sabotage means they end up in a less fulfilling role than their capabilities could handle.

Anyone lucky enough to have options should keep them open. Don’t enter the workforce already looking for the exit. Don’t put on the brakes. Accelerate. Keep a foot on the gas pedal until a decision must be made. That’s the only way to ensure that when that day comes, there will be a real decision to make.”

What you can do to develop your career

Researchers at Cranfield University asked business leaders what they thought were the top unwritten rules to advancement. Here are their responses:

  • Network and build relationships within and outside the organisation (71%)
  • Find ways to become visible (51%)
  • Play politics and lobby for yourself and your work (45%)
  • Communicate effectively and ask for lots of feedback (43%)
  • Perform well, produce results (35%)
  • Find a mentor, coach, sponsor (32%)
  • Work long hours (29%)
  • Develop a good career plan (20%)

They were also asked what they wish they had known at the start of their career. They said:

  • About organisational politics, becoming visible and advocating more for myself (35%)
  • To plan my goals and career in advance, learning about the next steps (26%)
  • The importance of effective communication, asking questions, and asking for feedback (22%)
  • The importance of social networks; to network more effectively (18%)
  • To find a good mentor/coach/sponsor (15%)

You will also find useful advice about career development for both men and women in last month’s article.

What’s been your experience? Do you agree? How can you apply these ideas to your own career planning?

What organisations can do to optimise all their talent

If organisations neglect the strengths of women, they are missing out on 50% of the available talent, so what can you do as a leader to ensure your organisation maximises the available talent?

Firstly, look at your ‘vital statistics’, e.g.

  • How many women do you have in key positions?
  • What is the split between men and women attending leadership programmes?
  • What percentage of men have a coach plus a sponsor versus women?
  • What’s the split of promotions between men and women, and how frequently?
  • What is the split amongst performance ratings for men and women?
  • How many women are highlighted as high potential?
  • In succession planning what’s the split between men and women named as potential successors for key roles?
  • Who typically gets the high profile assignments?

Be aware that most women don’t want formal positive discrimination. They want to get there on their own merits and not be perceived as having been chosen because of targets you are trying to meet.

However, don’t use this as an excuse to avoid the subject. Act on the statistics. Ensure your talented women have respected, senior sponsors, and that they are given high-profile projects to handle. Actively work with them to help them manage their career.

Review your selection processes to ensure they are really open, and that it’s not a closed shop/network.

Offer coaching to your female employees – of course, as a coach, I would say that, wouldn’t I! Ensure they have highly respected, influential and committed sponsors.

Be conscious of your culture, ensuring that long working hours are not the expected norm. Cultural attitudes should enable everybody to take flexibility in when and where work gets done. Measure output not input.

Watch your language and assumptions to make sure you don’t have any unconscious bias. Watch your leadership style – women are less likely to appreciate aggressive, competitive, alpha male behaviour (actually a lot of men don’t like this either).

Be open to different points of view and style. It might initially slow a discussion down but the outcome will probably be of higher quality and creativity.

Finally, important messages from a senior leader

My client, Anna Pradzynska, is a highly regarded Senior Marketing Director at LEGO. She has recently read a book by Suzanne Doyle-Morris titled Beyond the Boys’ Club. Strategies for achieving career success as a woman, and has kindly shared some key points and personal reflections here (many apply to men as well as women):

Waiting to be noticed and rewarded for our efforts, even if we deliver 150% results, is simply not enough, it puts control in other people. What we need to do more of is talk about our achievements, draw attention to what we do and what we want. Nobody will ever care about our career as much as we do and thus we are responsible for driving it. Successful women know that the only way to get ahead is to tell others exactly what they produce and how much their efforts contribute to the business. Self-promotion is the name of the game. Unwillingness to do so will be falsely interpreted as lack of commitment, passion for work and overall ambition. It is so difficult especially in some cultures where such a behavior can be seen as bragging, and is not popular. However it is necessary and can be done right – some claim that 10% of our time (i.e. half a day a week!) should be devoted to self-promotion. When I look at my own career I realized that the moment of progress and promotion happened when my environment was clear about my contribution and my ambitions, it was when I had strong networks and was able to passionately present my results. Some might call it politics. I even have few colleagues who say that they are searching for career that is “politics free” – such a career does not exist! Politics is the way business is done. It is the work of relationships, giving help to others so that you can ask for their help when you need it. As women we love to help but often are too shy to ask for favors in return.

But to do it successfully we need to fight our self-doubt, feelings of not being good enough or ready enough. We continuously push ourselves to work more, harder, longer hours, to fix what we think we still lack. Thinking that success will come once we are perfect, will make us wait forever. Successful women have moments of self-doubt but they still know how to make the most out of the situation. They have the strength and confidence to overcome the self-doubt. I can definitely relate to that feeling, the need to be perfect is the biggest obstacle in my career – perfectionism is an enemy of progress. Perfectionism is a very common trait among high achieving women who work with men. Waiting until you are perfect, and not just 80% ready, will hinder you from saying yes to all kinds of opportunities. Perfectionism makes us also focus on what we do wrong – how often during people review we hear only the negative feedback and ignore the positive, even if positive dominates.

Be proud to be a woman, do not try to be one of the boys, our “feminine” skills are invaluable to any business. Many research show that men are more dependent on adrenalin of rapid-fire, high-risk situations whereas women thrive on activities such as discussion, collaboration, relationship building, creation of win-win situations. We should focus more on what we can bring to the table vs what we are lacking.

It is also important to reflect “am I in the right organization, even the right profession?”. Because if we are not, it will show. Don’t waste time going for things you do not really want. Avoid being trapped by golden handcuffs like a well-paid job you dislike or that no longer challenges you. Is it the money or the fear of something unknown that holds you back?

Another important confirmation is the need to have advocates who support your career. And it is not enough to rely on your manager alone as it is a wider range of people who will impact your progress. It is your clients, colleagues, direct reports as well as people your manager interacts with. One should have even 3-4 advocates of high profile, as then it is easier for them to truly help you as they know they are not alone on that task – it makes the job easier for them knowing that their peers support their efforts. Find time to build those important relationships – even utilizing moment like shared taxi ride, lunch, coffee making etc.

And finally, take risks. Refuse to be stuck in a job that does not work for you or you do not love. “Stuckness is inertia”. If a new job opportunity or responsibility does not feel scary, it is most probably not a big enough leap. Consistent lack of taking risks means you stay in one place or even move backwards. Consistent risk taking and stretching the comfort zone will make you feel that actually what felt impossible is always manageable. It boosts the confidence and helps develop new skills.

Please share this article with anyone you know who might find it interesting, and let me know if you’d like more information.

Next month we look at how to handle your first 100 days in a new role.