Women and individuals with underrepresented identities clearly want more opportunities to advance and a better work culture, and companies need to hold on to the leaders shaping the future of work in order to nurture a better workplace for everyone.
A 2022 report on women in the workplace from McKinsey shows that women are still dramatically underrepresented in leadership with women leaders leaving their companies at higher rates. Women leaders want to advance, but face stronger headwinds. Women leaders are 2x as likely as men leaders to be mistaken for someone more junior, and 37% of women leaders have had a cowoker get credit for their idea compared to 27% of men leaders. They are also overworked and under-recognized compared to their male counterparts. 43% of women leaders are burned out, compared to only 31% of men at their level. Black women leaders face even greater barriers to advancement, showing that underrepresented minorities are heavily impacted by inequitable advancement. 1 in 3 Black women leaders says that they have been denied or passed over for opportunities because of personal characteristics, including their race and gender.
The Importance of Mentorship Programs
Leaders should emphasize the need for and importance of mentors, especially for underrepresented groups. Mentorship is especially needed as:
- Mentors are a guiding force for mentees seeking to understand new environments.
- Mentors help mentees in determining their vision for work.
- Mentorship programs bring together individuals to think about where the gaps in equity within the organization exist.
- Mentors help explain unwritten rules and corporate norms.
- Mentors provide nudges and confidence boosts to help individuals in corporate settings.
Mentorships programs can best be implemented if they focus on recruiting mentees. Mentorship programs should also have metrics to measure success.
Success of mentorship programs is essential as having a bad mentor-mentee pairing is worse than not being paired at all. Before taking on a mentee, prospective mentors should be trained to establish expectations. A set of guidelines should be established for both the mentors and the mentees. Additionally, not all mentors and mentees are well matched. In these cases, a confidential process to request a new mentor match should be available. A forced mentor-mentee relationship could do more damage than good.
Additionally, one common mistake among mentors is not meeting mentees where they are. Many mentors view their mentees through a deficit lens – such as lacking skills or cultural capital. They think they need to bring their mentees up to speed. Mentors encourage mentees to assimilate to the dominant culture, and norms take priority over nurturing the strengths that the mentees have. Mentors that have not worked within several cultures tend to not understand that.
It should also be noted that every mentoring partnership should be viewed as both a learning and teaching experience. Reverse mentoring is inevitable and good relationships are built on both give and take. Mentors should not consider themselves as the only mentor for a mentee, as mentees are eligible to have multiple mentors. Collaboration among mentors can be beneficial to mentees.
Studies have also shown that women may be over-mentored but under-sponsored. Mentors, coaches, and sponsors are very important for underrepresented individuals. Mentors are a guiding force in foundationally understanding new circumstances and the corporate vision, organizational structure, and norms. They can provide professional guidance and career advice. Sponsors are individuals in the workplace who will advocate for you. This could be a colleague, but it’ll usually be one of your leaders. A sponsor suggests you for projects, speaking events, promotions, raises, and makes sure that you “are on the radar” and that other decision-makers know your name. A recent study found having a mentor increased women’s ratings by a full .86 points on a 5-point rating scale. For men’s ratings, sponsorship has a much smaller effect on ratings (.44 points).
Supporting Underrepresented Individuals After They Get Inside the Doors
What happens after individuals with underrepresented identities get inside the doors and how can we support their progress and prevent them from getting lost in the fray?
Diverse representation among managers and leaders are needed as well as diverse team members. Diversity in identities and individuals results in the creation of more robust objectives and frameworks.
There are two types of recommendations for increasing inclusivity and equity in workspaces: big and quick fixes and systematic changes. Big and quick fixes focus on explicit policy changes toward inclusivity, such as those aimed at reducing discrimination in career advancement. Systematic changes focus on working toward developed and holistic mentorship programs and ensuring management and top-level diversity, as well as incorporating structure into creating a diverse workforce.
Mentorship and belonging are important to individuals from underrepresented communities. Companies can foster this by being explicit in learning the best way support for others can be articulated. People should be encouraged to increase empathy toward communities they are not personally a part of and do not have lived experiences from. Female and genderqueer individuals often share the importance of support and empathy in comfortable workspaces.
Breaking the Glass Ceiling within Promotion Pipelines
A pattern known as the Asian glass ceiling denotes how Asian individuals were the least likely to be promoted to management. In general, the number of executives for all groups except whites starts shrinking at higher levels of the executive ladder. Across all races, men are also promoted more frequently than women, making minority women doubly disadvantaged. Part of this stems from minority individuals not being able to see how they can move up to management roles.
Strategies that could help increase the percentage of minority individuals in management include:
- Offering leadership development courses, targeted courses for underrepresented groups to help them develop necessary skills for management.
- Seeking out role models, mentors, and sponsors.
- Sharing how to be an effective mentee – how individuals can attract a good sponsor.
- Rethinking the archetype of leadership away from the current structured set of attributes for what makes a “good leader”.
- Understanding that assertiveness and communication may be perceived as the most important attributes, yet these attributes are not cultivated in many individuals from minority groups.
Advancing Historically Minoritized Staff Out of Middle Management
Whatever gains made in representation at entry-level positions are quickly lost in more senior executives roles:
Foundational challenges with promotions start off with unreliable performance evaluations. Most of the variance in performance ratings is explained by a rater’s idiosyncratic rating tendencies rather than the employee’s ability.
Ill-defined, infrequent, and inequitable data collection is also a foundational challenge with promotions. The recency effect biases evaluations toward recent events. As a consequence, employees are judged disproportionately on their performance in the few weeks prior to the evaluation. The halo effect reflects the fact that one attribute can cloud the judgement of other attributes. Women’s evaluations are ~2.5x more likely than men’s to mention the employee’s communication style was too aggressive. For men, there is a positive, linear relationship between taking charge and rating peaks at a rating of 4. Women who were rated 5 had similar levels of “taking charge” language as the women rated 3.
Mentorship matters more for minorities. Having sponsorship was predicted to increase women’s ratings by a full .86 points on a 5-point rating scale. For men’s ratings, sponsorship has a much smaller effect on ratings (.44 points).
Diversity training may not be the best solution. A survey of 708 companies that had Diversity Training programs between 1971 to 2002 found minimal to negative effects on Black men/women. A more recent study has also found that a science-based online diversity training program successfully produced attitudinal changes but not behavior change.
Senior-level women of color put more pressure on themselves than their white colleagues, and this can adversely affect performance.
Tips for Marginalized Persons to Improve Confidence and Performance When Being Assessed
● Reaffirm your self-worth: Spend a couple of minutes writing about your many interests and activities. This writing can promote feelings of self-worth. Re-affirming yourself, especially when you question your abilities, can boost your confidence and performance.
● Map out your complexities: Spend 5 minutes drawing a diagram of everything that makes you a multifaceted individual. This exercise can help to highlight that this one test score doesn’t define you, which can, in turn, take some of the pressure off.
● Write about your worries: Writing for 10 minutes about your worries regarding a presentation or test you are about to take can thwart the anxieties and self-doubt that often emerge in high-pressure situations.
● Think differently: Think about yourself in ways that highlight your propensity for success. Instead of thinking, for example, that you belong to a gender or racial group that is unfairly stereotyped to be bad at math, remind yourself instead that you have the tools to excel. Focus on your credentials to help turn a bad performance into a good one.
● Practice under pressure: The old adage that practice makes perfect can do with a bit of adjustment. Studying under the same conditions you will be tested under – e.g., a timed situation with no study aids – helps test-takers prepare for conditions on test day.
● Outsource your cognitive load: Write down the intermediate steps of a problem rather than trying to hold everything in your head.
Advancing Women Out of Middle Management - Reviews and Advancement
Haas Business School Professor Laura Kray studied DEI, gender stereotypes, and bias across a period of 20 years and examined trends with an alumni salary survey. An interesting and disturbing trend was identified – women’s median wages for full-time, year-round work is 82% of male counterparts’ wages. Women are underrepresented at every level in the corporate pipeline. A study from the New York Times reveal that at each level, men at Google are earning more than women and earning higher bonuses.
Managerial span of control represents the number of people managed by a supervisor. It is a measure of vertical position and a concept introduced by early management scholars to discuss the appropriate number of subordinates for efficient operation. Managerial span of control is a meaningful measure when comparing within a given level of vertical position and when measuring intra-level differences in social power of hierarchically equivalent individuals.
One theory on gender differences in span of control revolve around how people hold gender stereotypes about how men and women interact with their staff. Male mangers rely on ‘authority ranking’ principles while female managers rely more on ‘communal sharing’ principles. Authority ranking promotes strict division of labor while communal sharing promotes sharing of responsibilities among subordinates.
Leading large teams is also perceived to be more difficult. A larger team is considered more complex and requires more skills; thus, leading a larger team deserves more compensation than managing small teams. Men are more likely to be given larger spans of control than women, even within a given hierarchical level, leading men to be paid more than women.
A salary survey conducted amongst MBA graduate salaries has disturbing raw results: 10 years after graduation from the same program, women are earning 60 cents on the dollar compared to their male counterparts. Among MBA graduates, men’s greater compensation is predicted by the larger size of the teams they lead; this occurs over and above differences in individual and job characteristics. These results are consistent with lay theories about the interactions in teams of varying sizes as the study found implicit biases.
Inequality can result from organizational processes that are not inherently discriminatory or coercive. Seemingly innocuous cultural beliefs about gender can rationalize inequality and lead to allocation decisions that disfavor women being assigned to lead large teams at all managerial levels of organizational hierarchies. Chief Scientist of the United States Air Force Victoria Coleman states that there is an expectation for women to adopt more aggressive leadership styles, but managers bring different styles of leadership despite social expectations.
Advancing Women Out of Middle Management - Global Lens and Programs
Global CEO of Siemens Barbara Humpton focused on expanding public commitments, reflecting the communities Siemens works in around the world, creating a framework for communities to adapt, and striving to improve overall progress. She states that the cycle of excuses for why there are not as many women in the company (e.g. “Not many girls study mathematics or go into STEM…” and “Most of our customers are men…”) must be broken.
The pandemic provided a moment of disruption that should be leveraged to unlock talent in a new way and lead people to understand diversity. Siemens has 28% women employees overall, and women seeking to advance mid career have been hired away. To understand why their potential was not being recognized, a look at the root cause is necessary: women ask for lower starting salaries than men, so the pay gap at the beginning stays with them for a long time. Since pay ranges are fairly broad, a significant wage cap can exist within that range. To prevent lower pay, coaching for starting salaries would be helpful for women starting their career. HR can also raise women’s salaries to offset the issue.
Resources for Equitable Advancement
The Spring/Summer 2022 Leadership Round Table report contains information on equitable advancement and advancing historically minoritized staff out of middle management. The Spring/Summer 2021 Leadership Round Table report contains information on advancing women out of middle management.