Give Everyone a Fair Go at that First Promotion!

The Broken Rung

The first step to issues with diversity in the workplace is with the first progression into management. Hurdle number one. This is where the rot starts for many organisations, small and large. A promotion becomes available and the immediate response is to look outside the organisation. In other organisations there will be an internal process for applying to vacant roles. Whoever applies for the role gets considered according to a process. Whoever does not apply is not considered because they ‘had their chance’. This is known as the ‘broken rung’ of career progression for women in particular, but also for people of colour.  

We know for a fact that women make up more than 50% of the workforce. And we also know that for every 100 men that are promoted to the first level of management only between 70-80 women will be promoted. Then it becomes a numbers game. For the next level of management there are already fewer women to choose from. Then in senior leadership/management we get to the 30-40% mark of women compared to 60-70% of men. If we add in the lens of colour, then the numbers get even worse for women. Women of colour make up only 4% of the C Suite in corporate America. 

It is often also said that women do not get opportunities because they aren’t as ambitious as men. Or they do not want more responsibility because they have a greater share in family responsibilities. This is pure ‘mansplaining’. Women may be harder on themselves and less ‘bullish’ about their abilities, and also do take on more emotional burden of the home duties, but there is no evidence to suggest they are less ambitious, capable, or open to opportunity.

So, what are some of the practical ways you can deal with this issue for your organisation?

Have a standard recruitment process

Advertise every role the same way and follow the same recruitment process for each role. Every interview should have more than one interviewer. Ask the same questions of every candidate. Have the same scripts and templates for interviewers to follow. Publish the questions to candidates in advance if possible.

Make the vacancy visible to everyone 

Where practicable, have a physical place where vacant positions can be advertised. Don’t just rely on people reading emails. Use a number of channels to make sure you get the widest possible range of candidates. Don’t make people think that there is already a front runner for the role by trying to hide the advert.

Reduce bias through training or research

There are many different types of bias that we all have. We need to be conscious of that and reduce the amount of bias we use when looking at candidates. If possible, arrange for anti-bias training, or at least talk about this with the recruitment team. As an example, all of us ‘suffer’ from similarity bias – where we naturally will want to hire someone that is similar to us. Many of us have ‘affinity’ bias where we see something on an applicant’s CV that we like – e.g., a sporting club, or common workplace, and then treat that applicant favourably.

Mentoring and career development

It is not only big companies that can put in mentor programs. Any size business can put in the effort to have quarterly catch-ups with each staff member and simply discuss how they are feeling about the business. What goals do they have for their career? In what areas would they like to progress? A mentor could even have a list of vacant roles and discuss whether the mentee should apply.

Encouragement and enthusiasm

I remember once in one of my workplaces, I mentioned to my manager that I would like to apply for a more senior role. His response was something like “Well you can apply if you like but…” I didn’t listen to anything after the “but”. I decided not to apply. When my manager found this out he asked me why. I told him that he wasn’t very enthusiastic about me applying so I thought I wouldn’t get it anyway. To that, he said it was a test to see if I had “the right stuff”. (Obviously I didn’t…)

Encourage the women, and the men, who you think might be a good fit for a role. You may even offer to help them with their application and their resume if they have any reservations. Don’t hide behind some notion that it’s a fair process that anyone can apply to the ad.

When I talk about this stuff to my colleagues and clients, many (mostly men) will say that this is “fluffy” or “corporate” or “HR stuff”. It is none of those. The facts are laid bare – let’s act now to overcome any prejudice in that initial hurdle of promotion. That first rung of the management ladder that all of us, women, men, and all people of colour should be able to achieve to further their careers and the businesses they work for.