4 reasons why women aren’t getting promoted

by Nov 28, 2019

Women aren’t getting promoted, and it’s time to change that

We need to start looking more seriously into why women aren’t getting promoted. They start with the same education as men, so what changes?

A wage gap emerges between men and women within a few years of hiring.

This was a key finding of the study Bank of Spain undertook on gender and promotions in general banking between 2003 and 2017. It highlights a nagging question; In a time where gender equality is supposedly improving, why are men still more likely to be promoted than women? 21% less likely in fact, according to research from the Bentley University.

And we are talking about women who enter the workforce with similar skill sets and experience to their male colleagues. They perform at a similar level. But somehow when it comes to moving up through the ranks, we suddenly see a divide. We see men move up into senior and higher management roles. In contrast, women aren’t getting promoted and instead often just plateau.

But what is driving this divide? And what can we do to combat it?

women aren't getting promoted

So why aren’t women getting promoted?

1. Women put themselves up for promotion less frequently than men

The crux of the problem seems to be this. Fewer women are getting promoted because fewer women put themselves forward for promotion. Now there can be a variety of reasons for this. But most come down to things like self-doubt and lack of confidence, which could be induced by things such as discrimination and male-dominated workplaces. When we look at the statistics, women that do go for internal promotions are actually more likely to get hired. This, therefore, suggests that the gap is due to a systemic failure, as opposed to an intelligence gap.

2. Women underrate their skills

It seems that women underestimating their own skills is one of the biggest culprits for holding them back from promotion. Women are more than three times as likely to underrate their bosses’ opinions of their job performance, revealed one study by the University of New Mexico Anderson School of Management.

This can mean men and women tend to look for jobs in different ways. Women will often view every point on job descriptions as necessary. They wait until they fulfil them all before applying. Men, however, are more likely to look at a job description and think, as one man put it in a survey on the subject, ‘I can do most of that and I’ll fake the rest of it.’

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3. Decisions on promotions favour men

Age-old stereotypes, male-dominated management teams, and boards which are still anything but diverse, are still rife in certain industries. Therefore, biased promoting patterns, unfortunately, but predictably, still exist. In fact, with bias around race thrown into the mix, it is women of colour who are the most affected group and encounter the most obstacles to promotion.

When looking at discrimination against women, it can be tricky to balance. On the one hand, women are told they need to be more confident. While on the other, women who do appear confident and assertive are judged more harshly than male colleagues that do the same.

We can see that promotions favour men, particularly at the stage of moving into management, as detailed by the Leanin.org and McKinsey study for 2017. If women were promoted at the same rate as their male counterparts, the number of women at senior leadership level would more than double.

women aren't getting promoted

4. Age affects women more negatively than men

We have discussed women underestimating their skills. And this gap only increases with age. After the age of 50, women are even more likely to underrate their skills than men. This is likely due to the age discrimination women face, which something men don’t experience in the same way; just look at the demographic of most boards.

Age also affects women in terms of children. They can be discriminated against with the view that they are more likely to take time out to have and rear children. They may also take time out to do this and then struggle to come back into the workplace at the same level.

So, what can we do to tackle this?

There are many simple ways to tackle this gender gap. Managers should put female employees forward for promotions, and businesses should introduce gender equality initiatives. In the study by Bank of Spain, there was a stark gender promotion gap until 2010 when the company introduced several measures to support gender balance. After this, the promotion gap disappeared.

Diversifying boards and introducing quotas is also a tried and tested method to move towards a more gender-equal workplace. Gender quotas have seen significant success in countries such as Belgium and Germany and would help to avoid perpetuating the same biased hiring game.

Brenda Trenowden, global chair of the 30% Club, an organisation fighting for more female representation on boards in FTSE 100 companies said: “Companies should look at ensuring proportional promotions.” Trenowden added, “If graduate intake is 50:50, then the first level of promotion should be 50:50, too.”

Ultimately, it is up to people already in senior and management positions to make these changes from the top down, so eventually they can happen on their own.

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Hanna Greeman Contributor
Hanna is a languages and logistics specialist. She is currently living in Barcelona working as a Creative Copywriter.
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