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Why women don't want that promotion.

Posted by: Jemma Puzey


Inequality in the workplace is a topic that has had increasing media limelight over the past few years. Unequal pay goes hand in hand with the glass ceiling women have been contending with for years, alongside the regular stories of women being locked out of board meetings and fobbed off when it comes to promotions.

Although companies are working towards more gender equal workplaces, a recent study has shown some worrying results when it comes to women’s prospects and their personal perceptions for advancement in their careers.

Middlesex University found that women were actually less satisfied after they accepted promotions or took on higher management posts. This is in contrast to men, whose job satisfaction increased when they were promoted into management roles.

The study suggests that the gender differences were not always down to overtly discriminatory factors and instead reflected an underlying widespread belief that women are less able managers. This perception is then typically reflected in female manager’s relationships with team members and if she is perceived as less competent, staff are less likely to accept her position and less likely to support her.

Further research conducted by and McKinsey &Co has shown that although women and men are seeking promotions in equal numbers, women are significantly less likely to make it to the next tier in their company.

Fewer women are aiming for the very top positions, with 60% saying that they want a top executive role in comparison to 72% of men; however across all organisational levels women are a staggering 15% less likely than men to get promoted.

Women are more likely to cite stress and pressure as the main reasons to avoid top positions.

We are hardly the cowering delicate flowers we were portrayed as in the past, so why might this be? Well, other life commitments just get in the way and take over. As women we typically are more pro-active at taking on the care giving role; McKinsey found that woman were at least 9 times more likely to say they do more childcare and at least 4 time more likely to say they are responsible for the household chores.

Now, I’m not saying that men don’t do their bit here, but factoring in the pay gap of receiving up to 35% less remuneration than a man for doing a comparable job, it still makes sense for the man to be focusing on work and our priority to be the children and ageing parents.

In fact 43% of women leave their careers behind to focus on family, although in contrast mothers were actually 15% more interested in acquiring a top executive role than women without children. Once at the top however, women are more likely to stay and those in C-suite positions are almost 50% less likely to leave their organisations than men. Although the more senior the woman, the more she feels her gender will impact on future advancement.

We are moving in the right direction by setting quotas for more women in senior positions but companies also need to recognise the actual day-to-day experience of women in management and positions of authority, and that it’s not just about ticking a numbers box. Men and women are experiencing very different workplaces one where career advancements and opportunists come in varying proportions. The data is very clear that men win more promotions, get the more challenging assignments, and have more access to top leaders (likely to be because those leaders are also men).

Further, the actual environment of the workplace needs to be taken into account. Workplaces can often be much more hostile and sexist for women as well as having to deal with many more sterotypes of being "bitchy" or a "nag". Whereas male counterparts would be perceived as a "pistol" or  "requesting". These are factors that should not be ignored when considering why women are backing away from promotions. It's not just about paying a higher salary, it's about receiving respect and support from co-worker whilst in the job. 

Women are nearly 3 times more likely than men to say gender has posed a hindrance to their career advancement and that they are consulted less on key decisions. Additionally, less than half of women feel promotions are awarded fairly based on ability and most deserving, and that gender is often a deciding factor in pay rises and promotions.

Perhaps it’s less about what the workplace isn’t doing for working women but more about what women want from their lives or more specifically, don’t want.

The study showed that women value meaningful work over power and that they prefer autonomy in a job over a working schedule dictated by men over 40 years ago.

Men tend to focus on one life aspect at a time and this is often their career which can be a fundamental source of happiness. Whereas women typically want a more varied lifestyle.

So when the opportunity for promotion comes along, not all of us want to make the sacrifices that come with it.

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