Promotions - women left behind yet again!

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Posted: Jul 2022

According to the findings of our latest Salary Guide 2022, there were more promotions during 2021 (the period over which we collected the data) compared to the year before, reflecting the way many businesses are bouncing back post-pandemic.

Promotions for men and women
Promotions for men and women 2019-2022

However, for the second consecutive year, companies have promoted fewer women, erasing the first year of gain for female communications professionals. In 2019, we reported more women getting promoted (26% of female respondents compared to 22% of male respondents). Sadly, this was the first time in the long history of our survey that we have reported encouraging findings like this. Things took a sharp dip in 2020, with only 15% of female comms professionals being promoted compared to 19% of men. Our latest findings show that female promotions are creeping back in the right direction – 23% of women got a promotion in 2021, compared to 24% of men. These figures are encouraging, but there is still work to be done. What can companies do to ensure the gap continues to close?

Choose visibility!

For most women, the significance of visibility creates a challenge. We live in a culture where double standards exist and one where if a woman self-promotes, she is viewed as violating the norm of female passiveness and being humble. Whereas male self-promotion is an accepted norm. While many female employees we talk to are aware of the importance of visibility, they intentionally choose invisibility. The choice is due to three main reasons: avoiding backlash due to prior attempts at self-promotion that were viewed negatively by male corporate leaders, not feeling authentic when using self-promotion techniques, and finally, staying out of the limelight allows some women to have a better personal/work balance.

Crisis of confidence?

It is likely that women have been left wondering how you demonstrate your worth when you are working remotely. Women tend to be less vocal when it comes to highlighting their achievements. The same applies when they want more flexibility, a pay increase, better benefits or a promotion. Men are much more likely to shout about their successes, say what they want – and get it.

If women feel that they aren’t able to put in 100% at work – and given that women often feel they have to over-perform so that they can ask for that promotion – they’re not going to feel comfortable having that conversation with their line manager.

With fewer face-to-face impromptu meetings in the workplace, women have lost valuable opportunities to build cohesion, and be sounding boards and mentors for one another. This is the type of personal support women typically rely on to help them advocate for the advancement of their careers.

Women are often held to higher performance standards than men, and they may be more likely to take the blame for failure, so when the stakes are high, senior-level women could face higher criticism and harsher judgement. Not surprisingly, senior-level women are significantly more likely than men at the same level to feel burned out, under pressure to work more, and as though they have to be ‘always on’, especially when working from home.

How can women move forward from here?

If companies make significant investments in building a more flexible and empathetic workplace, they can retain the employees most affected by the knock-on effects of the pandemic and nurture a culture in which women have equal opportunity to achieve their potential over the long term.

Early promotions in a career are most critical to success; by failing to promote and retain women who are in the early stages of their careers, companies end up preparing fewer women for senior roles. This affects women’s lives and livelihoods and could create negative financial and cultural consequences for companies.

Many MDs and CEOs we meet acknowledge that their companies have uneven early-promotions processes that perpetuate the broken rung on the career ladder for women. But a few have said that their companies have begun to monitor the advancement of women in roles during the first five years after they are hired.

There is something unique about retaining a woman ‘A’ player. It requires creative thinking and good listening skills from managers. They wait until women are ready to leave before starting to address what women really want in their roles. Women also need to speak up more for themselves and have those overdue conversations with their line managers about their role, their desire for promotions and pay rises. There is no time like the present to brush up on your negotiation skills.

For a free download of our full Annual Salary Guide 2022, click here.

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