Women Don’t Get as Many Big Jobs that Lead to Promotions

By Melissa J. Anderson (New York City)

According to Catalyst’s latest research, women high potentials (in this case, women with MBAs) don’t receive as many career-changing jobs and assignments as men.

The study tracked the careers of 1,660 male and female MBAs, and found that within a few years of graduating, men were more likely to get the kinds of jobs that help propel careers forward: projects with high visibility, jobs that are “mission critical,” and international assignments.

What’s more, participating in a leadership development program had less of an impact on career growth for women than for men.

Anna Beninger, co-author of the study and Senior Associate, Research at Catalyst, said, “This really is about companies not using the talent of high potential women. Women are entered into the same formal leadership programs and they stay in them longer. But they still don’t get the same access to these jobs as men. There seems to be a lack of strategy around how companies develop women.“

She added, “There are a lot of missed opportunities.”

Three Factors

The researchers asked high potentials what factors had the most impact on advancing their careers. Over three in five (62 percent) said that “obtaining stretch and high-profile assignments, as well as increased leadership and promotional opportunities” had the biggest effect.

Beninger pointed out that men are getting more of those “hot jobs” that help advance careers (highly visible projects, mission critical jobs, and international assignments).

The report showed women have less of an opportunity to participate and lead the big projects that get noticed by senior management. For example, the projects that men led had more than twice the budgets of women’s projects. Men also had three times as many people on their teams. More men than women had C-suite visibility (35 percent compared to 26 percent). And more men than women said their projects involved a high level of risk (30 percent compared to 22 percent).

That means women aren’t leading as many of the projects that get attention from people who can suggest them for further promotion. Similarly, men were more likely to score mission critical jobs, like P&L roles (56 percent of men compared to 46 percent of women), managing direct reports (77 percent of men compared to 70 percent of women), or having a budget bigger than $10 million (30 percent of men compared to 22 percent of women).

Women were also less likely to receive international assignments – among those who said they were willing or very willing to relocate, 35 percent of men had an employer-initiated international job, compared to 26 percent of women. And in this same group of people who were willing or very willing to relocate, more women were never offered an international job than men (64 percent compared to 55 percent).

All of these factors show that equally qualified women aren’t getting the same opportunities as men to show off their skills and talents and attract career sponsors – which ultimately means they’re less likely to get promoted.

Career Development

Similarly, while women are engaging in leadership development and training programs earlier and for longer amounts of time than men, they aren’t getting as big a reward for it.

The study showed that in the 18 months following one of these programs, women were less likely than men to get an international assignment (14 percent of women compared to 23 percent of men), to get a P&L job for the first time (7 percent compared to 13 percent), or to see their budget oversight increase by 20 percent or more (15 percent compared to 22 percent).

Significantly more men than women (51 percent of men compared to 37 percent of women) got a promotion within a year or completing a development course.

Beninger suggests that companies may be well-intentioned in setting up these programs, but most are not being strategic about how they lead to promotions.

“We don’t believe that many companies have formal metrics in place to track who is getting the hot jobs that lead to advancement. They probably aren’t aware that women are getting smaller, less visible projects,” she explained. “They need to identify what projects matter most, and they need to implement metrics to track who’s getting access to these jobs.”

She also said people need to be held accountable to ensure that women aren’t missing out. “They need to make it someone’s job to ensure women are getting access to equal opportunities.”

These disparities should be alarming to employers, she continued. “It’s in their best interest to take full advantage of their talent pool. By not ensuring that women are getting equal access, they are losing that talent throughout the pipeline. And our research shows that having more women at the top means better financial results for organizations.”

Personal Solutions

Beninger says that women can employ a few strategies to help increase their chances of getting these jobs. “In our Ideal Worker report, we saw that women and men are using the same proactive strategies for getting ahead, but men tended to benefit more from them. Nevertheless, two strategies that really made a difference for women were networking and making sure their accomplishments are known.”

“In order to position yourself for success, seek out sponsors and ensure that sponsor is aware of your ambitions and accomplishments.”

She also suggested that senior women (and men) in organizations can help make a difference in creating equal opportunities for women and other minority individuals in the corporate space. “The first is sponsoring – we know from our report Paying it Forward that people are more likely to gravitate toward people like themselves. But we can’t just let the progress of junior women fall on the shoulders of senior women. We need both senior women and senior men to sponsor them.”

She continued, “I would also say that senior women and men can advocate for the need to implement metrics to track who’s getting the hot jobs. They have the power to urge companies to increase transparency on this. Transparency will minimize the potential for bias and assumptions.”

“Women are doing all the right things,” she added. “But the gender gap persists. Hopefully this report will be a resource to close this gap.”