Why Workplace Politics Hurts Women (And What You Can Do About It)

By Desda Moss Oct 7, 2015
bmarcus.pngBy Bonnie Marcus
Working industriously, diligently and with heads down has served women well. They now hold 57 percent of all bachelor’s degrees and 51 percent of all doctorates, and earn 47 percent of all law degrees and 45 percent of all MBAs. Yet, armed with optimism and ambition, women often enter the workforce and are blindsided: Only 5.2 percent of Fortune 500 CEO positions and 5.4 percent of Fortune 1,000 CEO positions are held by women.
The problem? A naïve negligence of workplace politics, a mindset I explore in my new book, The Politics of Promotion: How High-Achieving Women Get Ahead and Stay Ahead (Wiley, 2015). The book details common landmines women encounter at work—from unconscious and second-generation bias to a lack of self-confidence and a distaste for self-promotion—and provides proven tools women can arm themselves with for success.
Women typically view workplace politics as negative, manipulative and evil, leaving them unwilling to engage in such politics. This aversion puts women in vulnerable positions and keeps them from “leaning in” because they lack essential information about how judgments are made and who makes and influences them.
Men, on the other hand, are much more willing to engage in workplace politics. Research shows that men spend, on average, about 80 percent of their time doing their work and 20 percent of their time letting everyone else know what a good job they’ve done. While women are still viewed and judged differently than men in the workplace, they cannot ignore politics if they want to advance their careers.
In my book, I offer five key tools—a Political Toolkit—women can use to not only move their careers forward but also benefit their organizations:
  • ​The Mirror: The ability to define your value proposition—the unique way your work contributes to successful business outcomes—is the foundation of savvy self-promotion. Articulating your value and communicating your achievements is key to moving up and showing how your initiatives benefit the business.
  • The Magnifying Glass: Staying focused on workplace dynamics and how they affect you in your current position or your future career is a daily practice. The power and influence in an organization constantly change; if you keep your head down and don’t pay attention to what’s happening, you are vulnerable to power plays and can potentially lose the ability to leverage relationships.
  • The Pass Go and Collect $200 Card: Like drawing this card in a game of Monopoly, your strategic network positions you to win. By nurturing strategic relationships and leveraging them to mutual advantage, you can supercharge your career, find new opportunities and build even more quality relationships.
  • The Get Out of Jail Free Card: Sponsorship protects you and promotes you to win in the workplace. It’s the fast track to advancing your career. A sponsor paves the way for you to make it to the top. He or she literally pulls you up through the ranks by creating visibility and opportunities.
  • The GPS: An executive coach is your career’s navigation system. Your coach helps you maneuver the complexities of the workplace, overcome your limiting beliefs and position yourself for success. Using a coach increases the effectiveness of the other tools in the Political Toolkit so that you reach your goals faster.
As more women make their way to the top, the ability to stay at the top becomes a priority. This requires women to build relationships with influential stakeholders and actively manage workplace politics in order to not just survive, but thrive.
Bonnie Ma​rcus is an award-winning entrepreneur and president of Women’s Success Coaching. She received a B.A. from Connecticut College and a M.Ed. from New York University. She is an ICF-certified executive coach. She is @selfpromote on Twitter.

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