Why aren’t more women climbing the ladder at corporations and organizations of all kinds? It’s the million-dollar question. If you really want to change the status quo, read on!
We’ve been debating this question for a long time. Mostly because it’s unfathomable that so little change has happened in decades. Are women not climbing the ladder because of a personal decision or because of organizational biases?
Climbing the ladder: Three responsible categories, not two!
Let’s look first at two, broad categories that most commonly take the blame for making it hard for women climbing the ladder.
There is an array of factors that deliberately or inadvertently impact the number of women at the top in a negative way. These include barriers such as unwritten rules, policies, expectations, and perceptions of what constitutes leadership potential, executive presence, etc.
Expectations that in order to reach the C-suite you must be available 24/7. Or work late every night to entertain clients.
- Expectations that women are still mostly responsible for family matters.
- Perceptions of men being more competent or having more executive presence.
- Regular skepticism, push back and challenges of women’s ideas and competences.
- Fill-in positions through recommendations of current executives in office. (These tend to be white men and have a network with a similar make-up.)
- Value face-time in the office for promotions(penalizing people who are mobile.)
This group of factors includes your own behaviors and decisions that impact your career trajectory.
- How assertive you are in your communication and leadership style.
- How strong your network of sponsors is.
- How hard and often you negotiate for yourself along your career.
- How visible you and your accomplishments are to key people.
- How comfortable you are taking risks.
- How important other pursuits outside of your career are for you.
Now, in trying to figure out which of these two categories is more responsible for women not climbing the ladder, we keep pointing fingers with little visible results.
The truth is that here’s a third category that connects Organizational and Personal. One that we haven’t paid as much attention as it deserves. One that can really make the difference.
This category is the space where both individual women and organizations share responsibility for more women not climbing the ladder. Due to the way in which organizations have traditionally perceived and promoted men and women, and social norms affecting both genders, some advice and training fell through the cracks. Companies didn’t offer it. Women didn’t ask for it.
This advice refers to the expectation that a person must have certain abilities in order to reach C-level. Advice that hasn’t been verbalized as often to women as to men. And women haven’t asked about it either. Here are the areas that may be holding you back at any level:
- How focused you are in business outcomes. (Both the outcomes of your own role and on how they impact the overall outcomes of the business.)
- How closely you align your role in the organization with the business strategy. (Can you answer why the company is paying your salary? Hint: Think of the “why” you do what you do. Not the “what” it is you do.)
- How much financial acumen you have. (Do you know how to affect the company’s bottom line within your own role? At any level, it’s important to understand how what you do affects the financials of the overall company.)
Mastering these three aspects will make it easier for women climbing the ladder to get to the very top. If you are a manager, supervisor or an executive, you may need to start sharing this type of advice with your subordinates. Offer them coaching and training programs to fill-in any gaps in knowledge. If you are an individual contributor, this is your call to action. Don’t let one more day go by without seeking help in this area. Here is a great, very inexpensive Business Foundations online course, taught by Wharton Business School.
As women, we already have many of the advantageous characteristics that make for a successful 21st Century executive. Make sure you don’t overlook the business, financial, and strategic abilities that are taken for granted at higher levels. You may not have thought about them much along the way and they may be the one thing that’s holding you back.