Why it is so difficult for Black women to make it to leadership positions at work?

This blog post has been adapted from the book ‘What works for women at work by Joan Williams and Rachel Dempsey. They identify 5 patterns of bias against women when compared to men for promotion in the workplace.

Pattern 1: Men Are Judged on Their Potential; Women Are Judged on Their Achievements.

Pattern 2: What’s Important for a Given Job? Whatever the Male Candidate Has.

Pattern 3: Men’s Successes Are Attributed to Skill, While Women’s Are Overlooked or Attributed to Luck. With Mistakes, It’s Just the Opposite.

Pattern 4: Objective Requirements Are Applied Strictly to Women but Leniently to Men.

Pattern 5: Women Are “Gossiping”; Men Are “Talking about Business.”

We will tackle the first one in this article.

Pattern 1: Men Are Judged on Their Potential; Women Are Judged on Their Achievements.

It is harder for a woman to earn more money and get promoted  in a new company than by staying longer with a new employer. Women often found that they had to prove their competence again when they get new jobs. New companies expected them to prove again that they are competent where this is different with men. As a black woman who has changed employers a number of times in here career, I have often found this to be the case. My earnings did not show a straight upward trajectory, they often had to zigzag as I would be required to prove myself again. When men have the qualifications, are able to articulate themselves in the interview they are often given the benefit of the doubt.

Popular wisdom holds that one of the best ways to negotiate a higher salary is to be willing to move to a new company. This is true for men, who the non-profit Catalyst found earned nearly $14,000 more if they were at their second post-MBA job than if they were at their first post-MBA job. No such advantage was found for women. Women who had worked at three or more companies since receiving their MBAs earned an average of $53,472 less than those who stayed at their first post-MBA employer.

When a women and a man are considered for a promotion, it is often easier for a man to be judged on their potential and be given the benefit of the doubt. For women there feeling is often that it is too risky, the woman needs to prove herself.

One consultant sees this pattern every year, when she and her colleagues are deciding whom to promote to partner at her firm. “You see in those discussions where men often are given the benefit of the doubt: ‘This is such a strong senior manager; he’s a great guy; he’s really going to go places,’ ” she said. “And then you get to the discussion of some woman senior manager, and the discussion suddenly turns to, ‘Well, we think she’s talented, but she hasn’t been given an opportunity to prove it yet. Maybe she needs another year.’

Because women seem less natural fits for high-stakes jobs as compared to men, often they are seen as more of a risk for a promotion or an appointment than a comparable man. They are often given an assistant position or the position without the perks while they are proving themselves again.

We spoke with several women who said they were given a promotion but not the title or the increased salary that typically came with the new job. Often their supervisors have them “test out” the new position for months before they feel comfortable making the appointment official — or simply refuse to give them the title at all

Implication on the women’s career:

  1. If a woman is kept off important projects because she hasn’t proven herself yet on an important project, then she’s never going to get the experience on important projects.
  • It’s so prevalent that women may internalize it as a measure of their own competence
  • It impacts on their earnings when they get to new companies and have to earn the same or less while they prove themselves
  • Women required to display a higher confidence than the male equivalent to self-promote in other to counter these biases

One of the ways to confront this, that the authors advises is by asking your immediate superior what you can do to be able to be considered for a similar promotion or opportunity as your male counterpart.

Published by Busisiwe Hlatswayo

MBA (Henley), Career Coach and Founder Black Women in the workplace www.blackwomenintheworkplace.com

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