5 tips for women to get what they deserve at work

Women are often evaluated for promotions primarily on performance, while men are often promoted on potential, one study found.

Women are often evaluated for promotions primarily on performance, while men are often promoted on potential, one study found. Image: WT/Unsplash

Pavitra Raja
Community Lead, CEO Action Group On Nature Pillar, World Economic Forum
Alexis J Taylor
ESG Strategy, Indeed.com
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SDG 05: Gender Equality

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  • It will take 132 years to close the global gender gap, according to the World Economic Forum’s 2022 Gender Gap report.
  • Women still face occupational disadvantages and barriers that stifle opportunities, hinder mobility and impair growth for both men and women in the workplace.
  • By confidently claiming credit for their hard work and fostering a culture of recognition, women might move the needle on the gender gap.

In a society still grappling with gender inequalities, women, especially women of colour, have unique barriers to overcome. Recognition is a crucial element in career progression - and as women, we must often work harder to receive that credit.

The World Economic Forum’s 2022 Gender Gap report found that it will take 132 years to close the global gender gap. Moreover, several research studies show that women receive less credit when working in groups alongside men. A study by Harvard, MIT and the Wharton School researchers found that when women and men pitched the same idea to venture capitalists, women received significantly less funding.

The same bias can often permeate the corporate workplace. Time magazine observed that women are regularly "maninterrupted" and that credit for an idea tends to fall on a man. Additionally, according to a 2011 study by McKinsey & Co, women are often evaluated for promotions primarily on performance, while men are often promoted on potential.

How can women claim credit in the corporate workplace

Women can and should be able to successfully pitch ideas to their management and confidently claim credit for their hard work.

But how?

Here are our top tips:

1) Own your space

Find ways to be heard without modifying your language.

As a woman, have you ever found yourself using the phrases "I may be wrong, but…" or "I'm not an expert in this, but…" or excessively using the word "sorry…"? Women are more likely to use self-deprecating or 'softer' language in the workplace. Women also tend to use "we" in reference to their work, even if they carry out a task alone.

The likability trap is a constant concern for women - and a catch-22. On the one hand, you might be deemed too aggressive by accepting credit and using the term “I". By the same token, sharing too much of the credit could dilute your value and contributions and blight progress.

Instead of using self-deprecating speech or qualifiers to appear more affable, convey likability in more positive ways. Use light humour, form personal connections, give praise, and encourage others.

It’s important to note that women cannot effectuate the necessary changes alone. Organizations can contribute to this by cultivating healthy and inclusive work environments to make women feel more comfortable being themselves, valued as leaders, and heard without modifying their language.

2) Find a sponsor, not a mentor

Women need what men often receive – someone who champions them.

Find a sponsor to speak on your behalf in high-level, closed-door meetings. Many people know the benefit of partnering with a sponsor - someone who goes beyond traditional mentorship to help build a junior employee's skills, advocate for them when opportunities arise, and open doors.

Few realise that being a sponsor is just as important for career growth. Research shows that senior executives who sponsor rising talent are 53% more likely to be promoted compared to those who don't. Similarly, mid-level managers with proteges are 67% more likely to be given stretch assignments.

Well-chosen, loyal proteges could bring about top performances and capabilities that sponsors may lack themselves, thus boosting both parties’ growth in the workplace.

3) Create a culture of recognition at every level

Start by establishing norms with your colleagues and the team you work with.

When ideas are discussed in a conversation, accredit them to the person who raised them. If you notice a colleague is misattributing an idea to someone else, course-correct and give credit where it’s due. Create space for quieter colleagues to share their work if you notice they are not getting enough airtime.

As companies become flatter and less hierarchical, learning when and how to step up, step back, and elevate one another is vital. Shared power, recognition, and accountability fuel these emerging democratic and decentralised company structures. Research supports this, demonstrating the importance of shared recognition and appreciation in retaining talent, especially in a diverse workforce.

Additionally, establishing these norms among colleagues might help foster a network of supporters who elevate one another and understand the challenges that are being tackled.

4) Say farewell to the "Queen bee" syndrome

“Queen bees” are women in positions of authority who are very critical of female subordinates.

Despite the increase in women entering the workforce today, queen bee syndrome hasn’t subsided. A classic study conducted 16 years ago revealed how female university professors inevitably succumbed to said syndrome in their evaluations of female graduate students.

Queen bees remain unallied, according to new research. Senior women may judge up-and-coming women more harshly to manage the gender discrimination they have battled throughout their careers. Women may also mirror the gender bias they have faced by underscoring how they differ from other women and applying gender stereotypes.

If you are a victim of queen bee syndrome, take a minute to think about a time you were assessed on merit instead of gender. Eliminating it doesn't imply fixing women but rather disassembling the patriarchal system that impairs growth for men and women alike.

Have you read?

5) Don't gaslight yourself

Take note if someone claims your idea or takes credit for something you've done.

Awareness is the first step. Honour your experience and check for patterns. The second step is to address the situation by approaching the person or setting new boundaries. If you face severe sexism and harassment, consider finding a new workplace entirely.

Stand together

Remember you’re not alone. More often than not, friends, colleagues, or even bosses have faced similar trials and can offer tactical support.

With more women achieving higher leadership positions, it is our time to tip the scales, show up, and boldly claim recognition for our work - especially when there are consequences to not doing so. It might be tough to do at first, but remember, you're playing a key role in capturing success stories and developing new ideas for trailblazing women. Your role is key in moving the needle on the gender gap.

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The views expressed in this article are those of the author alone and not the World Economic Forum.

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