Conventional wisdom holds that thanks to the feminist movement, women are on a more even par with men in today’s business world. After all, in 2007, 40% of managerial positions in the United States were held by women, reported the US General Accounting Office , while in 2012, Catalyst reported that women claimed 51.5% of managerial positions.
Those statistics sound impressive and suggest that overt gender bias may, for the most part, be a thing of the past. Yet when you dig deeper, you realize that hidden, subtle, silent, “second-generation” gender bias persists. Sure, women have gained managerial positions, but they’re still largely excluded from the higher echelons of most major companies: Only 4% of Fortune 1000 company CEOs are women, per Catalyst.
According to a recent blog post entitled “Educate Everyone About Second-Generation Gender Bias” on the Harvard Business Review website, “Second-generation bias does not require an intent to exclude; nor does it necessarily produce direct, immediate harm to any individual. Rather,” write Herminia Ibarra, Robin Ely, and Deborah Kolb, ”it creates a context – akin to ‘something in the water’ – in which women fail to thrive or reach their full potential.”
This bias can manifest as a failure to consider women for leadership or strategic roles, offering women less compensation (typically 78 to 87 cents on the dollar) or not considering them for bonuses, or an organizational culture that subtly disconnects the men from the women in the office. Women often are not even aware of bias against them. That may explain why an August 2013 Gallup Poll of 1,000 men and women nationwide indicated that only 15% of women felt they had experienced workplace bias. Successful women have managed to make their way through the gender inequity gap. Here’s how you can, too.
1. Recognize that hidden or stereotypical gender bias exists in your workplace.
If you begin to look for it, you will probably see it. It’s time to stop accepting that when a man gets promoted over a woman, it’s just because that’s the way it is. “I think the issue is a combination of subtle gender bias and women not having the chutzpah to push for themselves and their ideas,” says career coach Connie Thanasoulis-Cerrachio, co-founder of SixFigureStart. “It’s the perfect storm when it comes to business, and it can really impede your career.”
Ibarra et al write that “when women recognize the subtle and pervasive effects of second-generation bias, they feel empowered, not victimized, because they can take action to counter those effects.”
2. Ask for more—more money, more vacation time, more responsibility.
You’ve heard it a thousand times over the past year: “lean in” per Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg. Don’t wait for opportunity to knock—instead knock on opportunity’s door. In the now-classic book Women Don’t Ask: The High Cost of Avoiding Negotiation—And Positive Strategies for Change, authors Linda Babcock and Sara Laschever suggest that women simply don’t think to ask for raises like men; don’t think there’s wiggle room for negotiating salary and benefits; concede too early in a negotiation; get less than men even if they do negotiate; only negotiate one thing at a time and are willing to settle for doing “well enough. ” As a result, they miss out on perks and promotions that come naturally to men. For example, by not negotiating their salary for their first job, Babcock and Laschever say that women set themselves up to make half a million dollars less in earnings over the course of their careers compared to their male counterparts.
It’s not just money that’s at stake, however. It’s also responsibility and power. “Look for leadership opportunities,” Thanasoulis-Cerrachio advises. “Any time there is a chance to be on a cross-functional committee or to speak at a meeting, ask for the role. Maneuver yourself onto mission-critical projects so you can quantify your accomplishments.” Also stop being so humble about your achievements and skills. “It’s not bragging, it’s sharing,” she says. “If someone sends you an email praising your work, forward it on to your boss. Remember, visibility plus credibility equals success.” In short, long gone are the days when you could do a good job and expect to be rewarded for your efforts. You can’t sit back anymore: You have to take your place at the table, speak up and get involved. “You have to be a connector, and you have to own your leadership,” she adds.
3. Give up the need to be liked in the office in favor of being professional.
According to Mika Brzezinski, co-host of the MSNBC show “Morning Joe” and author of Knowing Your Value: Women, Money and Getting What You’re Worth, many strong, successful women make the mistake of undermining, undercutting and undervaluing themselves, often because they want to be liked. Brzezinski herself found that her “desire to be liked outweighed my desire to be valued.” She was a sucker for compliments, even when they weren’t accompanied by cash incentives. When she finally got up the nerve to ask for a raise she desperately needed, she fumbled big time not once, but three times: The first time, she was too tentative, then she let herself be bullied by a woman, and then she tried to act like a man and came off as crazy. She finally got the raise when she threatened to leave the show—but only after years of being under-appreciated. Brzezinski interviewed several very powerful women—including Sheryl Sandberg, Arianna Huffington and Valerie Jarrett—who emphasized the need to be professional and non-emotional to get what where you want to go.
“I think you have to be bold,” says Thanasoulis-Cerrachio, “but there’s never any reason not to be professional or courteous. Professional behavior means you do the job you’re supposed to do and you treat people with respect. You dress professionally. You stand up for what you believe in. You don’t make it personal, you don’t get nasty and you don’t stab people in the back.”
She relates the story of a top-level woman she coached who had a new younger boss. “This woman supported someone on her team who was dealing with a chronic, serious illness. The younger boss wanted to move her to a trading desk, but my client felt the woman needed a private space because she spoke to doctors on a daily basis. It was a risky move and the boss didn’t like it, but he respected how my client protected her people. She took a strong leadership stance and as a result is a major player in her business.”
4. Champion other women—because when other women win, you win too.
“And find others to champion you, both men and women,” advises Thanasoulis-Cerrachio. “Don’t wait for your employer to find you a mentor. It probably won’t happen. Find one yourself.” At one company she knows of, all of the executive men have a high-powered coach to guide them —but none of the women do. Rather than letting that stop them, the female execs hired Thanasoulis-Cerrachio on their own dime.
“The point is,” she says, “men are taking care of themselves in business and women have to start doing the same.”
Nancy Monson is a creativity, career and health coach as well as a seasoned journalist. Her articles have appeared in over 30 national magazines including Glamour, More, Redbook, Shape and Woman’s Day.