BLG Leadership Insights Features

Do Women Go For It?

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!

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Diagnosing Internal Malaise

The recent airing of General McChrystal’s grievances of the Obama administration’s handling of the war in Afghanistan through a public outlet has raised a series of important dilemmas for individuals hoping to enact reform within their organizations. How should I go about drawing attention to problems within my business?

One on hand keeping the matter “in the family” can spare higher ups having to deal with potentially embarrassing inquires and audits which will also undoubtedly keep you in your bosses’ good graces.  However, without any external pressure there exists the likelihood that your ideas will falter, as a powerful motivation of change has dissipated. Conversely, you can choose to go public with your misgivings, increasing the probability that change will occur, albeit with the added price of media scrutiny and a sure trip to the unemployment insurance rolls. Usually, I think many would agree that informing principals of your qualms and deploying political competence to see these change through is the optimal solution. However, if the situation merits urgent attention your best option may be to blow things up and take the requisite lumps that will come. One such situation emerged in the years preceding the full outbreak of World War II.   

Throughout history, art has undeniably been linked to propagandistic motives. Picasso’s Geurnica was painted after the tragic bombing of Guernica by Nazi bombers in the hope of drawing international attention to the tragedies of the Spanish countryside. Painted in 1937, Pablo Picasso masterfully conveys the suffering of the Basque people and the tragedy of war. In choosing such a public forum, one of Spain’s artistic lights was able to draw international attention the suffering of his people.

Picasso used light and dark shadows and images to amplify the atrocity of these heinous acts. In order to maximize international attention, he highlights victims by using representations of light and dark along with a linear composition to emphasize the inhumanity and terror caused by the Franco regime. 

Unfortunately, in some cases perverse incentives (typically delayed promotion, being labeled as a snitch, or even fear of termination) keep employees unwilling to collaborate with employers. Non-hierarchical workplaces can temper some of these anxieties and help keep tensions at a minimum. Occasionally, problems need to be addressed in larger forums, which should be used to gauge general concerns and begin to build a consensus towards finding acceptable solutions. Picasso’s painting served this purpose, a large-scale mural, which directed the conversation.

Every organization faces two competing demands: it must execute its current activities and adapt those same activities to face future opportunities and challenges. Organizations hoping to maintain a competitive edge must be able to accurately diagnosis internal malaise.