People like to blame childbearing and childrearing for the fact that there aren’t more women in executive-level positions. However, while the Mommy track does have something to do with women falling off the fast track, it’s not the whole story. As a professional woman myself, I think I can fairly say that there are certain things we do that hold ourselves back better than any man or family situation ever could. Here are four examples:
A 2009 Novations study, that was updated in 2012, demonstrated that when it came to evaluating their own work performance, men rate themselves more positively than women. The researchers theorize that this occurs because women are socialized to be more modest about their work. Women are also underrepresented in terms of our ability to contribute to the strategic direction of the organization. On average, women see themselves contributing more at the micro level than at the macro level. In other words, we routinely undervalue ourselves.
Further Novations research indicates that men are more motivated by the visibility of their work, while women are more motivated by the security of work relationships. Men are more inclined to take strong positions on key issues and confidently advocate for key initiatives. Even if there is a degree of self-doubt, men are more likely to fake it 'till they make it. Women, on the other hand, often hang back, worried about being considered "too tough" or the dreaded B word.
Women are also called out for being over-emotional in our workplace relationships. Because men as the dominant group determine what is socially acceptable in a given context, our natural and more diverse reactions are more likely to be seen as inappropriate. And according to a 2007 study by Van Kleef and Cote, the display of inappropriate emotions is associated with decreased influence in workplace relationships – and decreased influence keeps us from getting promoted.
Women experience more personality conflicts at work than men and are also more sensitive to them. However, men are more accustomed to dealing with direct conflict - preferring to nip a problem in the bud and move on - than women. For instance, a woman might ask to be transferred out of a department instead of talking through a dispute, and this kind of passivity does not a trusted leader make.
Yes, there are ways! First, women should pay close attention to and model the behaviors that help people gain influence in organizations. We also need to communicate our accomplishments on a wide scale (i.e. not just to our managers), and take on assignments that broaden our sense of the big picture.
It’s critical that we speak in a strong voice even when we don't feel confident, concisely explain the factual reasons behind our ideas and decisions, and excuse ourselves promptly if we feel our emotions getting the best of us.
Often, we engage in the behaviors above unconsciously, so awareness is half the battle. Let’s stop blaming the kids and get to work on these problem areas!