Overcoming Gender Differences

A new report adds a different perspective to the glass ceiling discussion

As women of color continue to make strides in the workforce (61.3% in the civilian labor force and 31.3% in management, professional, and related occupations in 2008 according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics), the rate at which they are advancing into senior leadership (C-suite) positions remains a challenge. Recent research presents the possibility that women themselves may be subconsciously contributing to the glass ceiling complexity.

In a four-part study conducted by Novations Group Inc., a global talent development firm, employees’ impact on their organization is measured by what researchers call the four stages of contribution (see chart). Here is a brief breakdown of the stages:

Stage 1: The employee is a dependent contributor. Here, they are continually learning and willing to accept supervision.

Stage 2: The employee is an independent contributor assuming more responsibility for projects and requiring less supervision.

Stage 3: The employee contributes through others, or by mentoring and coaching.

Stage 4: The employee is a strategic contributor.

Women were found to have high representation in stage 3 roles (i.e., traditional manager roles) at 58%, but a lower representation (41%) in stage 4 roles (or senior-level roles), which focus on strategic contribution. Yet the report “Close the Gap: Overcoming Gender Differences in the Workplace“, also reveals that women tend to self-rate their contribution in the workplace slightly lower than will men, which, consequently, can affect how women help shape how they are perceived in the workplace. Based on the four stages, men were found to rate themselves at a 2.47, or, more closely toward a stage 3 (contributing through others), whereas women rated themselves at a 2.30, which put them at stage 2 (independent contributor).

According to the report, social standards, which have subconsciously taught women to be modest about their work, may be a strong contributing factor for the lower self-ratings. Janet Taylor, psychiatrist and certified life coach, suggests that the ratings may allude to the difference in the thought process between men and women. “If the question asks, ‘Do you feel you are making avid contributions at work?’ a man—thinking only about work-related duties—takes the question at face value because he is a linear thinker and is more likely to rate himself higher,” she explains. “Women are multi-linear thinkers so she’s thinking, ‘OK, yes, I do a good job at work but I could be doing better’ because she is including home and work obligations.’”

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