Six ways to give women a fighting chance at promotion

Six ways to give women a fighting chance at promotion

Women will rise to the top of the companies they work for if they are given opportunities to shine, according to detailed new research from the Melbourne Business School Centre for Ethical Leadership.

Organisations that give women the high-profile, challenging and interesting projects are those that end up with top performing women, a research report released yesterday revealed. “It is not about training or mentoring,” MBS research associate, Victor Sojo, said yesterday while presenting his report. “It is about how the tasks are allocated; high-profile opportunities that nurture many new skills, and show off the skills that women already have.”

When women are given their share of the good projects, they progress up the ranks of a company and they are more likely to stay with their employer.

“It is not rocket science,” Sojo says. However, the findings are ground-breaking in that they put empirical data behind the initiatives based on intuition and experience.

The research on women’s resilience in the workforce examined what factors – both personal and organisational – encourage women to fit it, function well and grow their careers in various workplaces.

Although personal factors are part of the story, the organisation’s approach, attitudes and policies are the most influential in the fortunes of women at work.

What companies can do

Companies that want women to have an equal chance at success and progression can now follow a series of six steps to achieve this goal:

  1. Provide opportunities for development (as above).
  2. Allow control over how and when women do their work, which also improves men’s productivity.
  3. Provide job networks and support within the company so individuals can discuss important issues and receive career advice.
  4. Cultivate a positive work environment. Women do best in companies with positive perceptions of work, its policies, practices and procedures.
  5. Employ more women – the more women in a workplace, the more likely they are to develop.
  6. Formalise the personnel processes – women progress more readily in companies with clear, formal and fair rules about personnel management.

The research also revealed risk factors that predict poorer performance from women. At the top of this list is:

  • A sexist climate – overt and covert harassment of women through jokes, and other forms of discrimination.
  • Sexual harassment.
  • General work stress.
  • Work/ family conflict – when work makes women too tired or distracted to focus on their family.

Older women are more resilient in the workforce, especially if they have a pretty adaptable disposition in the first place. High job satisfaction, a lot of experience and a strong commitment to their employer are other person factors will also help women thrive in the workplace.

The biggest personal risk to women’s progress is family/work conflict – the sense that women are just too exhausted and distracted by their family responsibilities to give work their attention. However, both this and work/family conflict (above) are frequently solved by providing control to women about how and when their work is done.

Six practical steps to take today

  1. Audit your company against the six protective factors above periodically.
  2. Use robust studies, like this one, to improve the company’s performance on these factors.
  3. Communicate often and clearly about the company’s expectations regarding equal opportunity and treatment.
  4. Target low-level sexism. Have a ‘No Just-Joking’ policy.
  5. Allocate high-profile tasks and projects to women to extend and display their skills.


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