Women risk holding back their careers in technology and stifling their potential because of an innate inability to promote themselves: so claimed a recent article in the Daily Mail. The article was based on a report by the respected social and sexual equality research pioneers, Catalyst. It suggests that women in the top blue chip companies are failing to realise their full potential because of a failure to promote themselves and their abilities. It also suggested that there is overwhelming evidence that many of the nation’s most influential companies tend to pay women mainly for performance, whilst their male counterparts are often paid for their potential and are more likely to reach senior executive positions. The reason for this appears to be twofold: women are less likely to actively seek help from mentors, and are generally less likely to promote themselves and their abilities.
Catalyst’s research found that women are not as proactive as men in their career strategies. It attributed this partly to a women’s natural inclination to be modest about her achievements, but also to the historic gender pay gap: in spite of equal opportunities legislation, men continue to outpace women in terms of both pay/compensation and career advancement. According to Peninah Thomson, chief executive of the Mentoring Foundation:
“Women are more likely to tell you three good reasons why they’re not ready for promotion, whereas a man will give you ten good reasons why you should promote him, even if they are of equal ability.”
Yet Catalyst discovered that when women are told how good they are, they actually start to thrive. The problem is that few women actually receive this praise and see little incentive in putting themselves forward for more responsible roles. The research organisation believes that some of these problems could be addressed by increasing the number of mentoring opportunities in the sector. Ms Thomson argued that without self-promotion, women will remain stuck further down the chain, rather than finding themselves in senior positions. However, she was keen to add:
“[Women] should understand that self-promotion is not about puffing yourself up, but stating the truth about your achievements with poise and confidence,” adding that they must work to “assume authority” rather than wait to be given responsibility if they are to climb up the career ladder.
The Catalyst report found that women do negotiate pay when changing jobs, but are paid more over the years if they stay in the same job having proved their performance. The issue has become increasingly important as major FTSE 100 businesses have raised difficulties about fulfilling Lord Davies’ recommendations to appoint more women to their boards as there are not enough willing female candidates out there.
The importance of professional networking and mentoring
The Catalyst report recommended that women should network, if they wished to advance in their chosen career. It has since received support for this suggestion from other organisations.
Speaking at the recent Silicon Valley Comes to The UK event, Reid Hoffman, the co-founder of LinkedIn, said that young people starting their career in technology jobs should take advantage of networking.
The report also thoroughly recommended that women should seek out a mentor if they wished to move up the career ladder. Any help and guidance they could receive from others who had faced similar problems and challenges would not only help them overcome their reluctance to promote their potential, but also teach strategies that could help them achieve their goals. Women’s and equalities minister, Theresa May, has supported the idea of a mentoring service for women with the announcement that she will recruit 5,000 mentors to help female entrepreneurs through a women’s business council.