Women in promotions

What you need to know:

  • Prior research has shown, women are at a significant disadvantage when required to self-nominate for promotions.
  • Women have a lower desire to compete against colleagues than do men.

Akinyi thrived as an accountant in a large Nairobi-based telecommunications company. She submitted accurate reports on time, gelled well with her teammates, and found and eradicated inefficiencies. She held a bachelor’s degree and master’s degree in accounting and finance respectively.

When the firm announced a chief accountant position, many of Akinyi’s colleagues, especially the men, scrambled excitedly to gather their papers together to apply for the post. But Akinyi felt that her current role as an accountant was satisfactory and though she would enjoy a promotion, a new challenge, and a higher salary, she did not feel like competing with her colleagues or suffering the feeling of defeat if she was not selected.

So, even though Akinyi might have been the best candidate, she did not want the stress of applying for the position.

Like in Akinyi’s organisation, most companies across the world require employees to put themselves forward, apply for promotions, and compete with other applicants. Essentially, a self-nomination approach to personal career advancement within a firm.

Unfortunately, as prior research has shown, women are at a significant disadvantage when required to self-nominate for promotions. Women have a lower desire to compete against colleagues than do men.

However, Joyce He, Sonia Kang, and Nico Lacetera recently published a fascinating study using experiments to show a unique way to encourage more women to vie for promotions and advanced tasks. They utilised choice architecture in structuring a new method for qualifying for promotion and reducing gender and other disparities within organisations.

Instead of requiring employees to apply for promotions, they instead tested an automatic system of everyone in the firm who is qualified for a particular promotion to be automatically considered unless they specifically opt-out and inform the authorities that they do not want to be considered.

Choice architecture works well in other social policy settings: opt-in versus opt-out. As an example, many countries struggle with obtaining enough donors whose families agree to allow their recently deceased loved ones’ organs to be given to medical patients waiting for a new liver, kidney, heart, etc.

Some countries, like the Netherlands, changed their laws stating that all residents are automatically registered as organ donors unless they or their families opt-out. In other words, take an extra step to proclaim their intention not to participate.

In contrast, nations like the United States follow a different model. Most American states require its resident to opt-in for organ donation. Individuals and families must take an extra step to inform authorities that they want to serve as organ donors in the event of a catastrophe.

The nations that follow an opt-out approach show increased organ donation rates between 21 to 76% higher than the opt-in countries.

In as much Joyce He, Sonia Kang, and Nico Lacetera tried this same choice architecture approach of opt-out instead of opt-in with regard to promotions in the workplace, when in the opt-out choice architecture, there was nearly a 40% increase in the number of women vying for promotions. Even men benefited too with almost a 10% increase.

Thankfully, the change to an opt-out model of promotion consideration does not cause any undesirable consequences like lower performance or declines in well-being. Further, when every qualified employee is considered for promotions, the executives and evaluators making the advancement decisions do not penalize anyone for being automatically selected versus self-selected to stand for promotion.

So, in trying to improve inclusion and reduce discrepancies, organisations should not fear taking creative approaches including considering all staff members for promotions, advanced tasks, and new opportunities. It increases the size of the talent pool to consider for advancement thus giving firms better diversity to choose from.

[email protected] Twitter: @ScottProfessor

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