Last Thursday night, my daughter graduated from high school. I worked at grad night later that evening and into the early morning hours. It was a truly joyful event, and it gave me the opportunity to ask many of the new grads about their plans after graduation. Almost all of them, young men and women, discussed their ambitious plans with glee and giddiness. Close to 100% have plans to go to college.
They are our future and our hope! We need ALL of them to be successful.
What Happens After High School Graduation and College?
Recently I ran across an article in the Harvard Business Review that presents a very different outcome for women who are in the early stages of their career than it does for men, and is in stark contrast to the giddy enthusiasm of the high school graduates I encountered last week. That article was an excerpt from Companies Drain Women’s Ambitions After Only Two Years by Orit Gadiesh and Julie Coffman.
The article is based on a study that asked 1,000 men and women in a mix of companies two questions: “Do you aspire be to top management within a large company?” and “Do you have the confidence you can reach top management?”
Women with less than two years of experience were slightly ahead of men in terms of their positive responses to the above two questions. But, what happens next is troubling.
What Happens to Women in the Workplace After Two Years
For women with two or more years of experience, when asked these same questions their aspiration and confidence plummet dramatically – by 60% and 50%, respectively. Those drops were independent of marital status and motherhood. On the contrary, men with two or more years of experience had just a 10% drop in confidence.
When senior managers were asked the same question, the percentages for both men and women rose, but women remained 60% lower than men, whose rates shot up.
What’s Behind the Drop and the Gap
Several factors are discussed in the article that might explain this dramatic two year drop off. The study also asked a second set of questions: “Do you see yourself fitting into the typical stereotypes of success within the company?” and “Have your supervisors been supportive of your career aspirations?” After two years, women’s confidence that they fit the stereotype dropped 15%, whereas men dropped only 9%. Women’s responses on career goals dropped 20% after two years, while men’s responses dropped by just 3%.
The Stereotypes of Success
The Harvard Business Review article notes that many companies reward and celebrate those who exhibit ‘male’ behaviors such as pulling all-nighters to deliver a project, and other ‘fire-fighting’ approaches that perhaps could have been avoided with good planning. Or, the classic scenario of closing deals on the golf course, which is foreign for many women who don’t have a golf background. In my own corporate experience, I have seen women criticized for exhibiting ‘alpha male’ behaviors that, if done by a man, would not have raised any eyebrows. I have heard “She’s too aggressive” when people become uncomfortable in those interactions.
Another area in which women differ in behavior from many men is self-promotion. Women will tend to not blow their own horn, and instead take a team approach to celebrating successes. This includes not broadcasting their accomplishments, not asking for a raise, and not pushing for that next promotion.
Career Support from Managers
The article states that some women report that their direct managers don’t know their career aspirations or how to support them. Others reported feedback from their managers like ‘you aren’t a fit for top management’ or ‘you won’t really want it.’ This may not even be intentional. Managers who are male may have a mental model – remember the ‘Ladder of Inference’? – that is based on certain roles for women that don’t include management, and especially senior positions. The article goes on to reference a study by the Center for Talent Innovation that found that two-thirds of managers balk at counseling more junior-women. There are probably a number of factors behind that, but two are the mental model of women in management, and the fear of sexual harassment lawsuits. The biggest factor though is that men in senior positions are more comfortable coaching those who look and act like them.
And the Result Is?
This should not be a surprise – just 22% of senior positions in the U.S. are held by women. Based on a study by the Grant Thornton International Business Report and referenced in the Huffingtonpost Women in Management Study, the U.S. ranks 37th out of 45 countries in the percentage of senior managers who are women. The U.S., ranks well behind Russia, Indonesia, Latvia and the Philippines, which are all over 40%. This is an issue in Western European countries overall with some at lower rates than the U.S.
Are Women Better Managers?
In spite of the above evidence, there have been several studies that suggest the answer to the question of whether women are better managers is ‘yes.’ Forbes highlights this in their article The Results Are In – Women are Better Leaders, which found that in a 2011 study of over 7,000 managers at all levels in a variety of companies, women scored higher than men in all but one of 16 leadership competencies. This included the competencies of ‘driving for results’ and ‘taking initiative’, which are traditionally seen as male characteristics. (The only one women scored lower in was ‘develops a strategic perspective’.)
Gallup recently released a study The State of the American Manager regarding management effectiveness. Among the findings are “Female managers are more engaged, on average, than male managers, and they are better at engaging their employees. Female managers outshine their male counterparts on almost every Q12 engagement item that Gallup measures.”
There are many facets to this topic, and the role of women in the workplace has a grew effect on teams. Join us next week as we discuss what companies, women, and even parents can do to improve women’s outcomes in the workplace.
We’d also love to hear from you, share with us on Facebook or Twitter – what have been your experiences as a woman in the workplace, or as a man who works with women? Do these statistics ring true in your experience? How does this dynamic impact your team?