You're NOT the Problem!

Mar 06, 2024

TL;DR: Pretty much all research on women's advancement is framed with women as the problem - we lack confidence, being a mother is a barrier, we suffer microaggressions. In fact, what's keeping us back are the actions and decisions of managers. Reframe your thinking and take action.

Stop Accepting the Blame

Good morning from the sleepy little village of El Rompido in Andalusia, Spain.

This morning (Oct '23), for the first time in about 10 days, I scrolled through my homepage on LinkedIn and there were two bits of research that caught my eye.

One was the latest McKinsey and Lean In study. The other was a study about the rates at which United States Supreme Court justices interrupt women versus men attorneys who are presenting oral arguments.

What struck me about the McKinsey and Lean In Study was that it was just more and more of the same thing - research that I've been reading for over 50 years.

And I noticed again, with increasing anger on my part, how the research is framed as a woman's problem. This was brought into stark relief in comparison to the study about Supreme Court justices interrupting women attorneys (as opposed to the problem with women arguing at the Supreme Court). 

So, many, many studies frame problems with a focus on us.

  • Women are underpaid.
  • Women are represented in fewer numbers as you go up the corporate ladder.
  • Women experience microaggressions. And don't get me started on that.

None of these problems is new. Progress has changed only the slightest bit in 50 years. And part of the reason for that is this framing.

While, yes, there may be women who aren't ambitious and lack confidence, the real cause of these problems is the actions that managers take.  And the higher you go in organizations, more accurately, the actions that male managers take. 

  • Women don't experience microaggression. Managers cause aggressions, micro and macro, through their sexist, misogynistic and entitled mindsets.
  • There isn't a broken rung for women. Managers break the rung through their mindsets about women

Which is why, even though it was depressing, and certainly predictable, the study about Supreme Court justices was incredibly refreshing.

We need more studies that focus on the patterns of behaviors of managers. Especially those behaviors that end up keeping women underpaid in relation to their male counterparts  and  further down the career ladders. For example,

  • Studies that tell us what percentage of times male managers advocate for equal pay for their reporting women. 
  • We need to know the numbers of times that  managers give jobs to men because they think a mother wouldn't want to travel or relocate. Even today as it's becoming less and less  necessary for extensive travel or relocation.
  • We need to know and put responsibility on managers for making decisions like these instead of focusing on women as being defective or the problem.

And yes, it's very difficult to gather this kind of information. So in lieu of that, studies that present data on the wage inequities that exist or on the uneven career paths for women and men need to put responsibility for solving the problems front and center - where it actually resides -  in the decisions made by managers.

What's a Woman to Do?

I don't know exactly how to derive guidance for you. from this mini rant this morning except to say this: everything in the literature wants you to believe that:

  • You are the problem,
  • You aren't confident enough. (Maybe even in my case that you don't sufficiently demonstrate  your business, financial and strategic acumen.)
  • Being a mother is a career barrier.

And I want to say to you, no, that is not true.

(Although if you don't have business, financial and strategic acumen, your career will definitely stall.)

Anyway, the fact of the matter is, if you aren't advancing at the rate that you believe is appropriate, it's due to the decisions of managers around you and above you.

And you may actually, as so many women have, get a better break if you move to another organization.

Let's Recap

  1. Career research on women's status in organizations tends to focus on the problems with women, when the focus would be better placed on the actions of managers. 
  2. And if you feel like you aren't progressing, that you've taken every wise step to position yourself for that next move and it's not happening; it's not necessarily you. It is the mindsets of the managers around and above you. And it might be well worth your while to explore opportunities in other organizations.

This is Susan Colantuono recovering from a week of dressage lessons.

Catch you next time!

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