I feel uniquely qualified to speak on this topic, because I’m a man (well, at least I like to say that to my wife, whenever she won’t allow me to do man things like use a chainsaw or shoot a gun or spend money at the Home Depot). I also have had the pleasure of working for, working with and promoting all kinds of women. So, when Shaun Rein decided to write Why Men Don’t Promote Women More…Because Women Aren’t Pushy Enough for Forbes.com recently – I had to respond.
As Mr. Rein puts it:
“I will be honest. In my career, I have tended to promote more men than women. I have even generally given men higher salaries. Why? Am I sexist? Do men do a better job? The answer is a resounding no to both.
Actually, it is mostly womens fault. They simply don’t ask for raises or promotions as often as men do.”
He also adds these gems:
“Our research also suggests, perhaps surprisingly to some, that most men have nothing against working for a female boss. Only a minority of men told us they would object. In fact, many said they’d prefer a female boss, because of the greater likelihood she’d understand the need for work-life balance (which I wrote about in “Enforce The No-BlackBerry Rule”).”
So, let me start the retort on behalf of women in my life -
Shaun, I hate to say it, but you are probably sexist, and it’s not “mostly womens fault” that you didn’t promote them. While I’m sure you would argue you are very in-touch with diversity issues, because of your heritage, I would also assume that same background has given you a skewed view of gender issues and the historical battles they have faced in climbing leadership ladders. The fact that you write that some might be surprised that most men have nothing against working for a female boss, shows you yourself were somewhat surprised by the data. Most men don’t have issues working for women, only sexist men have problems working for women.
You also espouse the belief that women need to be “pushy” (a very gender biased term) to get promoted, while men just ask for raises more often. Men have to ask, women have to be pushy. You find nothing wrong with that thought process? What great leadership advice for Forbes readership – I’m sure that works well in Communist China.
So, Mr. Rein let me give you a couple of reasons why women don’t get promoted before men:
1. People (men or women) tend to select others for promotion based on personality fit and how comfortable they are with the individual. Men tend to connect better with other men - they have common interests, communication styles, etc. Since most senior leadership in the Fortune 500 ranks is male, they tend to promote more males.
2. Women tend to communicate a bit differently than men. Women tend to be more collaborative, ask questions, gain clarification in their decision making process. Some males find this to be challenging their opinion and become defensive – thus probably not helping their cause when going after promotions that are being decided, once again, by other males.
So, how do we get more women promoted into leadership roles? Diversity within the selection process, diversity with the succession process and diversity within the recruiting process. There isn’t any quick way to change a lifetime of habit, and as Mr. Rein suggests in his article being more aggressive and dressing more conservative, isn’t the magic bullet either. Organizations need to ensure that the representation of diversity they desire within must match those sitting at the selection table – even if it means bringing in some outside diversity when going through the process to help ensure the best selection is made – not the most comfortable selection.