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.