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Women ask for promotions at work but it's the men who get them

Women are ambitious and willing to assert themselves but organisations are slow to promote them, finds a new report

The report found that for every 100 men promoted to a manager role in 2022, only 87 women received the same boost.
The report found that for every 100 men promoted to a manager role in 2022, only 87 women received the same boost. (iStock photo.)

Women are ready to step up and lead workplaces, and despite discussions about equality, diversity and gender justice, companies still favour men when it comes to promotions and positions of leadership.

Nine in ten women under the age of 30 want to be promoted to the next level, and three in four aspire to become senior leaders. Yet, for every 100 men promoted to a manager role in 2022, only 87 women received the same boost, according to the Women in the Workplace report by Sheryl Sandberg’s LeanIn.Org and McKinsey & Co. The number of women promoted was 86 in 2021. Women are still being overlooked despite asking for promotions at the same rate as men, the survey found.

One reason for the gap: the way men and women tend to receive their promotions. “We promote men based on potential and women have to have already proven it to you,” Sandberg told Bloomberg. “You can’t prove you can be a manager until you’re a manager.”

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While companies are making efforts to increase women’s representation at the top, “doing so without addressing the broken rung offers only a temporary stopgap”, notes the Women in the Workplace report. “The broken rung” is the gender disparity in early promotions, which means men end up holding 60% of manager-level positions in a typical company. Since men significantly outnumber women, there are fewer women to promote to senior managers, and the number of women decreases at every subsequent level.

This year’s research reveals some hard-fought gains at the top, with women’s representation in the C-suite at the highest it has ever been. Since 2015, the number of women in the C-suite in the US and Canada has increased from 17% to 28%, and the representation of women at the vice president and senior vice president levels has also improved. However, with lagging progress in the middle of the pipeline—and a persistent underrepresentation of women of colour—true parity remains painfully out of reach, according to the report, which is now in its ninth year.

Black women are being promoted at the lowest rate in at least five years compared with men, explains Bloomberg. Only 54 Black women were promoted last year for every 100 men, down from 96 in 2021. The report began tracking respondents’ race in 2018. The number for Black women is now closer to the 58 recorded in 2018 and 2019, before the Black Lives Matter protests prompted much of corporate America to promise to hire more people of colour.

The report is based on research from 276 companies in the US and Canada employing more than ten million people. Within these companies, 27,000 employees and 270 senior HR leaders were surveyed. The aim of the report is also to provide an intersectional look at the specific biases and barriers faced by Asian, Black, Latina, and LGBTQ+ women and women with disabilities.

The report found that women are more ambitious than before the pandemic, with about 80% saying they’d like a promotion compared with 70% in 2019. The numbers are similar for men. Women of colour are even more ambitious than White women, found the report—88% want to be promoted to the next level.

The pandemic has changed the way women work, however, and flexible schedules have allowed one in five women to stay in their job without reducing their hours despite increased family responsibilities. A large number of women who work hybrid or remotely point to feeling less fatigued and burned out as a primary benefit, while adding that they have more focused time to get work done, the report notes. A majority of the men surveyed had similar views on hybrid and flexible work, citing better work-life balance as a primary benefit with less fatigue and burnout. For women, the additional benefit of remote work was having to face fewer microaggressions and having higher levels of psychological safety.

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The report also found that men benefited disproportionately from in-office work compared with women. “Men report when they are on-site that they get more mentorship and sponsorship than women. They feel more ‘in the know,’” Rachel Thomas, co-founder and CEO of LeanIn.Org, told Bloomberg. If that’s happening when everyone’s in the office, the challenge will be to make sure it doesn’t happen on an even broader scale in a hybrid work environment. Thomas suggested that companies need to better train managers to evaluate workers on flexible schedules, and that performance reviews need to be redesigned to emphasize results, not when and where work is done.

“The perception that it’s women who are lazy, who are disgruntled, that it’s women who are demanding flexibility rather than how that flexibility can fuel ambition is really unfortunate,” Sandberg, the former chief operating officer of Meta Platforms Inc, told Bloomberg.

(With inputs from Bloomberg)

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