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Claiming our Place in Management

WITI News Staff

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By Dr. Marcia F. Robinson

Women continue to enroll and graduate from college in higher numbers than men. In 2015, 73% of women who had recently graduated high school were enrolled in a two or four-year college program versus 66% of men. Analysis of data from the US Department of Labor shows that in Q1 of 2019, there were 29.5 million women who had earned bachelor degrees in the workforce. This was slightly ahead of 29.3 million men who had earned bachelor degrees. Women therefore, enter the workforce with higher rates of college education than men and are now at least equal to the number of men in the workforce with bachelor degrees, and yet women still continue to lag behind men in management roles in the workplace. How does this continue to happen?

More Pew Research social science data shows that general public sentiment from the majority of Americans is that women are equally capable of managing and leading. In fact, the research shows that women are indistinguishable from men on key leadership traits such as intelligence and innovation. The report continues that women may even be stronger than men when it comes to key leadership skills and traits like organization and compassion. It would appear, though, that despite these sentiments from the general public, women still face barriers in moving into management. Some of the reasons given for why women are not in top jobs include observations that women are held to different standards, don't have the time for leadership because of family obligations or - my favorite from the Pew data - women don't have enough connections. Whatever the reason, the management ladder is often challenging for women to climb.

Having worked with women over the years who have aspired to management and leadership roles, I wanted to share some of the success strategies that I observed or used myself.

1. We don't need to have all the stated qualifications listed in a job announcement to go for it. Data shows men will apply with 60% of the skills, while women apply only when we feel we have 100% of the skills.

2. Ask about leadership development programs in our companies even before we think we are ready for a leadership role.

3. Understand that when we are ready, our company might not be and so we have to be prepared to step out to step up.

4. We should ask for critical project assignments and work our way up the project management ladder based on project budgets. If we show prudence with budgets, it's hard to say we aren't ready for management.

5. Make it known we are interested in leadership roles in both formal and informal ways. We shouldn't overlook social events as opportunities to make our interests known.

6. Given that 71% of executives have mentees who look like them, we know that women and minorities may be easily overlooked. We should not downplay our contributions to successful initiatives. We have the work ethic, the drive and the ability to deliver outstanding outcomes, but we must make sure they are seen.

7. Lead outside of our companies in our professional membership associations, alumni associations or community and civic groups. Add these experiences to our portfolios and our conversations.

8. Go beyond our disciplines and make the business case. Don't be so inundated in technology that we can't make the business rationale for our technical decisions.

9. Seek out mentors and ask them to recommend sponsors. It might sound weird but not all mentors want to be sponsors. Sponsors, who are impressed by our work and see our value, could want to support our professional growth.

10. Be willing to walk away and start our own companies if we don't feel we are getting the respect and support we believe we deserve in our aspirations for management.

Dr. Marcia F. Robinson, SPHR, SHRM-SCP
Founder, The HBCU Career Center


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