What Women do to themselves: Training is not Development

Women are over-educated and under-developed. Yup. We think that going to a training class is the solution to our “development needs”.  Thus, more than 50% of both undergraduate and master’s degrees are now granted to women. But women still aren’t attaining senior leadership positions at the same rate as men.

This is a messy problem. There are lots of social and structural reasons that women aren’t rising to the top. Today, I’m going to focus on one of the things that women do to themselves – we mistake training for development.

The other day I spent a long lunch with a dear friend. She has a new boss. He has asked her to create a personal development plan for herself for the next year. She’s in marketing, so she wanted to know what marketing courses she should take. And (ironically, for someone who teaches marketing), I told her not to take any marketing courses. She already knows more about B2B marketing than anyone at her firm, and already knows more practical B2B stuff than most of her would be instructors. What should she do?

Pick one or two really big, challenging, high risk, high budget projects and actually deliver on them.  The only way to demonstrate that you have developed any skills is by actually delivering results using the skills. The folks at Catalyst call this the “hot jobs” theory.  They see that men take significantly more high profile, high risk, “hot jobs” for projects that are very visible within an organization. Successful completion of these high profile assignments leads to promotion and greater leadership responsibility.

So why are women over-educated and under-developed? Partially because it is easier, less scary and less threatening to take more courses than it is to take on highly visibly, highly risky projects. Research by the Catalyst group also suggests that there is some bias in the selection of potential leaders of “hot jobs” – men tend to get these jobs with lower levels of experience, and generally get these jobs more frequently. Even controlling for desired career path, that is controlling for who wants the job, men still get more hot jobs. So part of the problem is risk aversion among women, but also, part of the problem seems to be a bias in selection processes.  It may also be that while men and women both tend to have mentors equally, men’s mentors tend to be higher in the organization.  This means that men have more senior leaders advocating for them to attain these hot jobs.

There is an old saying that men get promoted for potential and women for accomplishment. The data suggests that there is at least some truth to this. My message for women is STOP looking for more training opportunities, and START looking for more stretch jobs, where you can demonstrate your abilities through accomplishment. Here are some tips from the Levo League, to help you land a hot job.

4 replies »

  1. The studies may be right however I tend to think women have enough common sense to realize that being that successful can be hazardous to their health. Women have had the opportunity to watch men through out the ages climb that corporate ladder to better and higher paying jobs only to drop dead from stress induced health problems.
    I might look for a healthy fear of success to be a major consideration in determining “hot job” vs “Training”. Do most women really want to step into that meat grinder? Do they think that they can do the same stress filled, high demand, cut throat, back stabbing job without succumbing to the same diseases as men have traveled through? Actually, some may say “Yes, bring it on!” They have seen some men make it through, or so they think.
    I don’t believe in a minute that they are not capable of doing the job though I want to believe they are capable of seeing the consequences and really “Don’t want to do that to themselves.”
    You can always replace a leader but you can never replace a life!

  2. Normally, I would be hesitant to touch these types of discussion being a man but I think this one point has some real merit. Working for a very large company I see the glass ceiling that many of the women in executive positions face when put up against their male counterparts. One thing I’ve noticed is that men tend to be more comfortable with other men in terms of engaging on a personal level as it pertains their working relationships. While men to can sometimes find themselves walking on “egg shells” when dealing with their female peers. I do agree that putting yourself out there is absolutely the best way to be recognized and promoted by senior leadership. They (senior leadership) care more about what you can actually do that will benefit the bottom line and drive results, than where you went to school or what executive certificates you have completed. Women are as capable as any man of holding senior leadership positions and running businesses as a whole. I believe they need to have a strong, confident voice in the business and consistently deliver results where their male counterparts have not. To me, that’s the best way to continue to break through the “good ole boy” ranks.

    • Thanks for being brave enough to engage with this “hot potato” topic. Perhaps one of the reasons why progress has been so slow is that women have tried to address this problem without engaging men in the discussion. And men are afraid of the political repercussions, so the walk on eggshells.

      I see the answer as two fold – men need to accept that perhaps there is more than one way to lead, and that perhaps their perceptions of leadership are coloured by gender. And women need to accept that maybe they need to alter some of their behaviours to be more effective when leading. And, women need to be able to express their frustrations to men in a way that will be accepted by men.

      None of this is easy, but if guys like you stay open to the discussion, we might get there a bit faster.


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