All Articles Leadership Careers What women aren't doing -- but should be -- to get ahead, part 2

What women aren’t doing — but should be — to get ahead, part 2

6 min read


This is part two of a two-part post by Caryl Rivers and Rosalind C. Barnett, the authors of “The New Soft War on Women: How the Myth of Female Ascendance Is Hurting Women, Men-and Our Economy (Tarcher/ Penguin). In part one, they discussed three things women should be doing — but aren’t — to get ahead professionally. Today, they discuss four more steps women should take in the workplace.

Compare yourself to your male peers.

Men usually compare themselves to other men, while women compare themselves to other women. If you look only at the females around you, you may feel you are doing pretty well. But because women generally don’t do as well as men at the same level, you are not getting a true picture. What do those employees with your level of talent (who are likely to be men) actually earn in your company? You may discover it’s a lot more than what you make.

In addition, if you’re watching how other women act, you are likely to get a skewed idea about your own behavior. You may think you’re being too “unfeminine” and too pushy, a conclusion you’d never draw if you compared yourself with men at your level. As a result, you might back off and hesitate to demand the resources you really need to get your work done.

What you can do: Avoid segregating yourself into all-female groups. Have enough continuous contact with male colleagues so that you get the inside scoop on what’s really happening in your company. Also, you will observe firsthand what men are asking for — and what they’re getting.

Speak up when a man gets the credit that you deserve.

A 36-year-old-media manager created, with two other women, a huge (and profitable) news-gathering database system. A male colleague took credit and is still consistently credited by the (mostly male) management as not just the creator but the most knowledgeable on the system. She says that it is common for males to get the lion’s share of the credit in her workplace. “I was teamed with another male colleague and we were splitting projects … When he turned in something he worked on [that had] a problem, I was blamed. But when I turned in something I worked on and it was great, we were praised as a team.”

Sadly, these stories are all too familiar. Women work hard — and men get the credit. Research has found that when there is uncertainty about which member of a male-female team is responsible for the team’s successful performance, credit is far more often given to the male than the female — by men and women. Specifically, female members are rated as less competent, less influential and less likely to have played a leadershiprole in work on the task.

This is a problem as, increasingly, companies turn to team efforts as more creative and productive than solo work.

What you can do: Be vocal in telling everyone how your leadership on the project was key to success. If important people in your organization are addressing questions about the project only to your male partner, don’t be shy. Chime in. If you don’t speak up, you lose.

Seek the right kind of mentoring.

All mentoring is not created equal. As the Harvard Business Review notes, “There is a special kind of relationship — called sponsorship — in which the mentor goes beyond giving feedback and advice and uses his or her influence with senior executives to advocate for the mentee. … [w]omen are overmentored and undersponsored relative to their male peers — and so they are not advancing in their organizations.”

Too often, what passes for “helping” female employees is nothing more than hand-holding, including achieving work-family balance or setting personal objectives. While all this is certainly worthwhile, it has nothing to do with the long-term goal of getting women into leadership positions.

A sponsor is an advocate who will go to bat for you in a way that a mentor will not. To succeed, women need this kind of vigorous coaching and strategizing from a superior who is really invested in their success.

Furthermore, without sponsorship, women not only are less likely than men to be appointed to top roles but may also be more reluctant to seek these high-level jobs.

What you can do: Some companies have formal sponsorship programs. Find out what the story is in your workplace, and work hard to get the right kind of advocate. Check with your colleagues to see what kind of help they are getting, and do everything you can to get those same opportunities for yourself. Above all, don’t drop out of the game. If there’s someone you admire and can learn from, seek him or her out as a sponsor.

Explain why you’re angry.

For men, expressing anger can be an effective means for attaining higher status; for women, it has the opposite effect. When men express anger at work, they are seen as powerful, competent and worthy of a high salary. Angry women, on the other hand, are seen much less favorably. They are viewed as less competent, less powerful and less likely to be paid a high salary.

Research has reported that even a women’s high status doesn’t protect her from these harsh views. For men, rank bested anger. Male CEOs who got angry were not viewed negatively. Angry women CEOs were seen as incompetent.

Why? Because women simply aren’t supposed to be angry. So, a woman may be seen as an out-of-control, over-emotional person, no matter what caused her reaction. However, when men explode, their anger is seen as understandable; they’re just getting mad when someone screws up or a plan falls apart. They’re OK — their competence isn’t questioned and they don’t lose status.

What you can do: Be sure to explain your anger as a response to an understandable circumstance. For example, when one woman explained that she was angry because a coworker had lied to her, her colleagues then saw her anger as legitimate, not as a sign of her being out of control. They were able to put themselves in her shoes, and were not so quick to pass judgment.

Men, especially, may jump to a wrong conclusion about your anger, assuming that that you are just overly emotional and unfit for leadership. Give special attention to debunking that idea with male superiors.