Too many women are not getting ahead because they think it’s a level playing field and that
- promotions are won according to fair and objective criteria.
- working hard and being good at what you do is a pre-requisite for success, and
- candidates win positions based on ‘merit’.
While we understandably want these statements to be true, the workplace is a political environment where people of influence form perceptions about people according to what they notice and hear about them, in some cases, despite the evidence.
These perceptions inform decisions about merit and ‘readiness’ for promotion.
I heard about a guy who was promoted because he happened to ride back to work from a client meeting with the CEO. The CEO was so impressed with him from that 30 minute car ride that he took it upon himself to call the person’s supervisor suggesting that he was at too low a level and should be promoted. It happened.
If you wish to advance, you must understand the culture you’re working in. To learn about the culture you must pay attention, observe the dynamics and ask yourself or your mentor:
- How do people get ahead here?
- What are the critical success factors?
- Who are the key decision makers and influencers?
- What roles are most valued?
- Is there a ‘high potential’ list and how do you get on it?
- What are the unwritten rules for promotion – and where do I learn them?
Next, make sure you are visible and that people know you
- deliver what the organisation values
- are committed and prepared to advance
- have the skills, experience or potential required for more senior roles.
This means you must tell people what they need to hear to overcome any assumptions or stereotypical views they may hold about you.
To this, I hear you say ‘I don’t want to play that game’. My response to you is that once you understand the rules of the game in your organisation you are in a position of power. You can choose to play the game by the rules, on your terms, in your time, or change the rules. At the very least, you won’t lose by default.