I have been asked to provide answers to FT readers’ management questions. This was my response to a question about combatting apparent sexism in promotion decisions.
There may be innate sexism at work, but it is also possible that so-called “unconscious bias” is present. This is where promotion decisions are based subjectively on underlying biases and stereotypes rather than the objective facts.
Although it’s hard for you on your own to challenge cultural unconscious bias, changes to your behaviour and communication can make a difference.
First, you need to raise your profile. Lots of women operate under the belief that doing a great job is enough to get you noticed and promoted. Unfortunately, this is rarely enough.
Speak up in meetings and remember that asking an intelligent question can be more effective than repeating your opinions. Put yourself forward for significant, highly visible projects, making sure that you don’t just take on the jobs no one else wants.
You also need to tell influential people that you are looking for a bigger role than you currently have and why you can do it. If they don’t know about you and your ambitions, they might not think of you at the next opportunity.
Enlist supporters and sponsors – clients and suppliers can be as helpful as people within your organisation. These will be people who think highly of you and will advocate your progress. If you don’t have a mentor, think strategically about who to ask.
Build your network. Although you might feel uncomfortable about obvious networking at work, the activities above will help with this in an authentic way.
Demonstrate your self-confidence and self-belief. Women can appear to lack confidence even when we have it. What women describe as collegiality and modesty, men can perceive as lack of confidence. Think about how you express yourself.
If lack of self-belief genuinely is an issue for you, you need to focus on your strengths, not on where you can improve. Make a list of all your achievements in your role, add to it regularly and keep reading it to remind yourself of just how capable you are.
Share experiences with female colleagues you trust. They may have faced similar issues and developed their own approaches. If you support each other, they might provide you with helpful feedback on how you come across. If you still don’t get promoted, you need to take your talents where they are appreciated.