Women have struggled for decades to advance in the workplace. Despite high-profile programs at many companies aimed at improving opportunities for high-talent women, a new study says women are still overlooked for promotions and earn less after receiving their MBA.
Mentoring programs are intended to address the disparity in promotion rate between men and women, but these efforts appear to be doing little, according to new research published this month in the Harvard Business Review. Compared to their male peers, women receive 15 percent fewer promotions and are paid nearly $5,000 less in their first post-MBA job. What’s more, women in an earlier survey occupied lower-level positions and reported lower job satisfaction than men with the same educational background.
These numbers are especially disheartening given that there probably has been little improvement in recent years. “The percentage of women in the executive ranks in Fortune 500 companies has not changed much in the past ten years,” said Alice Eagly, a professor of psychology and management and organizations and author of a book on women and leadership. As a result, the 15 percent disparity in promotion rates between men and women has probably not changed either, she said.
The structure of the mentoring programs may be at fault, according to the study. Part of the problem is that a good mentor can be anyone in the company. They may not occupy high-level positions and may be unable to advocate for their mentee. Sponsorship in addition to mentorship may be the solution. People with a powerful ally in their corner are more likely to advance.
Unfortunately, the study notes that women are often sponsored less. There are a few reasons for this difference, Eagly said. “Viewed through the lens of cultural stereotypes, women are nicer and more caring than men, but not as tough, assertive, or competitive—in a word, not as masculine as men. At higher levels in organizations, executive roles tend to be viewed as requiring more of these masculine qualities than the lower-level positions.” Mentors may be unsure that women “have what it takes” and are often “more comfortable working with ‘their own kind,’ ” she added.
To tackle these problems, the study’s authors suggest pairing high-potential women with well-positioned sponsors in conjunction with more traditional mentorship programs. Sponsors must be tutored in the nuances of gender and leadership and should be held accountable, they add. If a candidate fails to receive a promotion, it should be viewed as a failure of the sponsor, the authors state.
Photo by Roger Smith.