I haven’t written a line in far too long and it’s time to pick up the pen again! 

I’d like to talk about promoting women.

The principle is not very different from “Tip #1 recruit them”, but this time the work is done internally, within the company.

Promotion techniques vary from company to company, and even if it’s not intentional, some of them disadvantage women.

We have already established that most women will only apply for a position if they are sure they have all the required skills. So, by definition, a company that advertises open positions will see far fewer women advancing their names than a company that identifies and offers the position to potential candidates directly.

Sent to China by my company in 2014, I became the manager of an 800-person factory and… the only woman on the entire management team. When I arrived, the managers were all very proud to explain to me that half of the engineers they were recruiting were women engineers… Until I told them “50% in recruiting, 0% in even entry-level management roles. And you’re proud of yourself? You’ve built a glass ceiling of reinforced concrete and you’re proud of yourselves?” Great silence in the room. What I found disturbing was the fact that they were truly proud of their numbers and at no point did they think there might be a problem.

When I left three years later, half of the management team was now female, and the number of Chinese nationals at the helm had also grown considerably.

The method used to increase the proportion of women in management is very similar to the method used for new recruitment. It involves identifying candidates who are not usually on the list for potential promotion because they are too discreet, even though they are competent. Those who have difficulty following tip #5 (Let them talk) and do not speak up during meetings.

The technique of requiring a minimum number of women in the nominations works very well.

And I use the word “require” on purpose. If the required diversity is not there, I block the recruitment process. So, quickly everyone understands that I am very serious about this, and that not following the rule is not an option. People get very creative with this constraint.

But that is not enough, it is also necessary to be ready to innovate. By this I mean accepting someone who does not fit the usual leadership criteria. The qualities generally sought in a manager are mostly qualities valued in most men: authority, self-confidence, strength of character. It is therefore important to go against our unconscious biases that we all have and to promote people who correspond less to the “typical manager” profile on paper (man or woman) but who are real people of action, who will deliver the expected result and certainly more. Leaders who will not hesitate to show their weaknesses and who will share their doubts with their teams. Take a chance on non-standard management styles.

The good news is that these promotions will quickly create virtuous circles, creating role models that will allow more women to take up management positions.

It is important to clarify that increasing the number of female candidates on the starting line does not mean making positive discrimination. It is just a question of allowing women to participate in the race. The final selection will be based on criteria such as the profile and talent of the candidates.

Experience has shown that companies that have gone down this road have only just managed to promote an equivalent number of women to men in percentage terms, so all this work is just levelling the promotion system and making it more equitable.

I would also like to discuss with you an important bias in the allocation of positions, namely the protection bias. This is a variant of paternalistic sexism, where, by protecting women, we keep them in a position of dependence.

The principle is that if two positions are available, normally one will be more difficult than the other. Almost systematically, the woman will not get the position with more responsibilities. It is interesting to note that this is done to “help” the woman and give her more chances to succeed. Very few women reach management positions, and we don’t want to risk losing those who do. However, the perverse effect of this decision is that for the next promotion, we will favour the one who has been able to stand out by managing difficult situations in a difficult context, and not the one in a less complex position, whose work will be less valued. I say “the one” and then “the one” deliberately, because it will frequently be the woman who has not been given the opportunity to shine. And all this is a collateral effect that is a real brake to the progression of women but done with the best intention in the world! A good intention certainly, similar to the paternalist bias, having more harmful effects than beneficial.

It is within the reach of all companies to obtain parity in the management teams, and thus allow the promotion of competent people and obtain more diversity in the management styles. Companies and their employees will be better off, we all have something to gain!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.