Commotion about Promotions

by Susan Murphy, Ph.D., M.B.A.

"I'm so disappointed I didn't get the promotion to Department Manager!" exclaims Kay, "He should have known I wanted it!" When Kay's manager was promoted to Vice President, his former position had been posted. Kay didn't apply; she assumed her manager knew she wanted it.

Whether it's about promotions, salary increases, bonuses or desirable projects, women don't tend to verbalize what they want as frequently as men. Nor do they negotiate as often as men do. Consequently, men often earn more money, receive more promotions, and work on better assignments. Search firm recruiters complain to me that when they leave messages for working men and women about opportunities in another corporation, the men always return their phone calls that same day, but women rarely call back. One study of new MBA grads found men's starting salary was 7.6% higher than women's because 8 times more men had attempted to negotiate for a higher starting salary while most of the women had accepted the employer's initial offer (HBR Oct '03 by Babcock, et al). What causes these gender differences? Men enjoy taking risks while women tend to be more riskaverse. Women have been socialized to downplay confidence, stay out of the spotlight, and avoid behaving aggressively and promoting their own interests (Power-Dead-Even Rule). And as in the case of Kay who was passed over for promotion, women often assume they will be rewarded and promoted for working hard and being a good performer. Not realizing that they may need to verbally express what they want. To level the playing field, we need to encourage women to speak up and ask for what they want, take more risks, and learn the benefits of negotiating. Managers need to learn more about these gender differences so they can create a culture where both men and women can thrive.

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