gender wage gap, which indicate that women make somewhere between 62 percent and 77 percent compared with the wages of male colleagues who do the same work (and the wage gap is much worse for women of color), but they don’t think the same could be happening to them. But gender bias can be subtle and hard to recognize. Are any of the scenarios below familiar to you? If so, gender bias may be working against you.
- Recently a woman came to me for coaching because her boss told her that she needed to smile more to get promoted. She wanted me to help her learn to smile more, but she was bewildered about what this feedback really meant.
- Another woman came for coaching because her supervisor gave her a mediocre performance review, calling her “indecisive” because she spent too much time “coddling” her team by asking for their input on decisions—yet her results were very strong.
- Yet another woman recently came for coaching about how to get promoted. She had been with her large company for more than twenty-five years. She wanted to become a senior leader and had done everything her mentors suggested to prepare herself, yet in more than ten years she had been offered nothing more than lateral job changes while men all around her were moving up. When she asked why she was not moving up, she was told she lacked “executive presence” with no useful guidance about what she needed to do differently.
- Smile more. Do we really have to smile more? Unfortunately, the answer is yes, for now. The subtle bias usually operating in this feedback has to do with the difficulty women have being perceived as both competent and likeable, discussed by Sheryl Sandberg as “the likeability factor.” To overcome this bias, educate yourself about gender bias in the workplace and keep conversations with your boss focused on your results. Document your results and remind your boss about them from time to time—while smiling. Networking with other women and having a “safe setting” where you can share experiences, feedback, and best practices is important too.
- Exercise collaborative leadership. The ability to build and utilize teams is a strength women should feel proud of and leverage. The command/control leadership style that is rewarded in most organizations is not the only style that produces results but is often the only style that gets rewarded. Share some reading materials about gender style differences with your boss and challenge him or her to consider supporting diverse leadership styles. Start a book club with both female and male colleagues to discuss gender style and leadership style differences and work together to encourage the organization to recognize and reward a broader range of leadership styles.
- Demonstrate executive presence. Promotion decisions based on “lack of executive presence” for women often reflect a gender bias in organizations—men are more comfortable “tooting their own horns” about their accomplishments and nominating themselves for assignments and promotions for which they may not even be qualified. Women hesitate to do the same or underplay their accomplishments, which can be interpreted as lacking executive presence. As women, we can learn to be more self-promoting. We can also agree to promote each other to senior leaders.