Certain companies have been making efforts to diversify the composition of their higher management. For example, Google has implemented a policy whereby individuals can nominate themselves for a promotion if they feel that they are ready. The company hopes that such policies will impel competent male and female employees to seek out challenging positions.
However, one problem companies are finding is that despite adopting policies that are designed to be equitable to employees of any sex, they are not always used equally. Specifically regarding the policy of self-promotion at Google, behavioral differences between male and female employees cause the policy to be drastically underused by women. Hence, the problem of stratification in management still exists.
In a recent interview for the Wall Street Journal, Laszlo Bock the Senior Vice President of People Operations at Google discussed the behavioral trends he has noticed in women at Google. He believes that differences in the way women behave on teams and in interviews helps explain why they underuse policies such as self-promotion.
According to company data, Google has consistently found that women are undeniable assets on collaborative team projects and that management performs better when it is composed of a mix of men and women. However, the data also indicates that women are reluctant to nominate themselves for promotions until long after they are actually ready for advancement.
In Bock’s experience, men generally seem to have some percent chance of being promoted once they nominate themselves. On the other hand, when women nominate themselves, they almost always receive the promotion, and often could have attained it up to a year before.
What such patterns imply is that to a certain degree, women are holding themselves back from valuable opportunities. The issue is even more complex when one considers the factors that influence women’s behavior.
Although it is possible that women are consciously avoiding challenges they do not desire to take on, Bock believes that the external culture in which women operate influences women’s confidence and decisions indirectly.
Women’s behavior in the corporate world is molded by years of social conditioning that has encouraged women to be humble and less hard-edged than men. Consequently, women behave in accordance with what is most accepted of them. Oftentimes, this means less speaking up, less questioning authority, and less self-recognition.
The question that remains is: What can companies do in order to propel more women into higher management positions while still maintaining policies that are fair and equitable to all employees?
If solid policies, such as self-promotion are already in place, and they are not adequately funneling ready candidates into advanced job placements, then the social context in which men and women operate is of paramount importance.
If the social context fails to endorse behavior that companies have created expectations for, then even the most favorable policies will never be used fruitfully. This could be a disincentive for other companies to adopt similar procedures. Maybe it should be up to the companies that have adopted promising policies for leadership development to remind their women not to miss out and to go for it!