Women’s Advancement: Still Being Denied

Almost half of women surveyed tell Korn Ferry they’ve been denied advancement because of their gender. Their advice to overcome the problem is surprising.

It’s another sign of how challenging—and frustrating—the workplace can be for women. Forty percent of women professionals say they’ve missed a promotion or an opportunity simply because they’re female, according to a new Korn Ferry study.

But whether they were denied due to an institutional baked-in bias or some wrongheaded opinions of individuals, the women surveyed, perhaps surprisingly, offered the same advice to one another for overcoming the challenge: Be assertive and build a strong professional network. “My best advice for women in the workplace is to be confident and passionate. If you want the job, be the job before you even receive the promotion,” says Jane Stevenson, global leader for CEO succession and vice chairman of Korn Ferry.

Indeed, 44% of the respondents said their most important advice to other women is to develop a strong network, while 32% said have confidence. “We need to remain positive. Don’t buy into their assumptions by feeling victimized or getting angry,” says Kristin Mannion, a Korn Ferry vice chairman in the firm’s Board and CEO Services practice.

Many organizations are working to eliminate any institutional reasons women are denied advancement by using more quantifiable metrics in evaluating performance and leadership potential.

Nevertheless, experts say that assumptions about gender roles still influence many facets of a woman’s career. For instance, organizations may ask women to take on additional duties without offering additional compensation or title changes, and the women don’t object. “We are taught that it is our responsibility that we need to take care of people, we’re the nurturers,” Mannion says. In that case—and many others—women should show confidence and speak up. Mannion says a female professional can say, “That’s a great idea, here’s what we need to do that,” and then lay out the resources that she needs.

According to the survey, 42% of women say that the pay gap is the most important issue. Indeed, there is a significant pay gap between men and women, on average. However, that gap shrinks considerably when men and women have the same title and the same role at the same company. Getting women into more senior positions should help reduce much of the pay discrepancy, according to Korn Ferry experts. Eradicating some out-of-date philosophies can get it even closer. Mannion says there are still companies big and small whose policies continue to reflect the out-of-date idea that women can get paid less because they have a husband or father to support them.