• Fern Lee

Hierarchy in the workplace - what you should know when looking to get promoted


If you work in an organization that is male-dominated, such as a law firm or a tech company, there is a certain hierarchy to follow. Sometimes it's clear - there is an explicit organizational structure to observe and follow. Sometimes, it's implied and you have to work on figuring it out

If you are a woman, the implicit one is the one that you want to be aware of.


Being a woman in a male-dominated industry is tricky. You are the minority and therefore viewed as an outsider. Men have dominance in those situations, and therefore do not have to be sympathetic or empathetic to your situation.


Most of the time, men are unaware of their lack of sympathy or empathy towards your situation. Their callousness is not always deliberate (though be aware that in some situations, it is). They have never had to put themselves in our shoes and so would not do so.


This isn't to say that it is forgivable. We just have to be aware of how they think and function. Most women do not realize this and tend to think that men think like us. They do not.


In their world, hierarchy or rank is important. We as women tend to be more collaborative, but in a man's world, it tends to be more competitive. In essence, it is a zero-sum game - all situations have a winner and a loser. For most men, if they want to win or be great at their job, then the other person will have to lose and therefore the other person will have to look bad.


So there is a fight you are engaged in (whether you like it or not) to put you down in order to raise themselves up. Understanding that this is a game (and it is a game to them) that men play is important to understanding how to approach workplace situations. It is not collaborative like how most women like to approach situations. It is a competition that they need to win. How then do we deal with this?


Our problem is double-edged. Our reputation amongst men is often that of the weaker sex, indecisive, wishy-washy, not authoritative. This does not yield respect from them. However, if we go against the expectation of being caring and nurturing, and be authoritative and decisive, we are seen as bitchy and a tyrant. This also does not yield respect from them.


How do we solve this double-edged problem?


We have to adapt our behavior to suit the occasion. For example, when speaking up at meetings, it is okay to be authoritative and commanding. But when you are in a conversation with a colleague or a team member who needs listening ear, then a softer, more nurturing approach is required.


I'm not saying that this is a scenario that is acceptable and that we should accept what the status quo is. What I am saying is that this is the reality we as women have to face up to. We have to understand that in order to be seen, get heard and promoted. It goes beyond merit.


I've heard many women say that they want to be promoted only because they are the best person for the job. But what does this mean?

What is the definition of the 'best person for the job'? Who determines that and what criteria do they use? Is it being best friends with the boss? Is it being liked by your teammates? How do we judge who the best person for the job is?

Saying that you want to be promoted only because you are the best person for the job is in my view a nonsensical and unrealistic criterion. There is no objective criterion for who the 'best person for the job' is. It is subjective, depending on the person doing the promotion.


Being part of the team is important too and not putting the powers that be in an uncomfortable situation is part of the landscape we have to navigate. Whether it is a male or female boss, we have to take into account our likeability. Whether we agree with it or not, people who get promoted are good at their job AND liked by the team and their bosses.


This does not mean we have to be meek and subservient. This does not get us likeability or respect. What it does mean is adaptability. Learn what your non-verbal and verbal languages convey about you can help you achieve this. Adapt your behavior according to the occasion is imperative, but do not become a doormat for your colleagues and bosses.


Your authority can be asserted in a way that will give you respect. You just have to find the right way of presenting yourself so that your colleagues and bosses see you in a good light too. Observe and learn about your colleagues' behaviors. Take note of what their personalities are.


I am not endorsing the status quo by a long shot. I don't think that this is fair or right. Women do have the short end of the stick. We have to work twice as hard for half the recognition and reward. We have to adapt our behavior constantly to be seen as "promotion" material in order to be liked, in order to be part of the team. Men in the majority don't have to work as hard. They are already part of the team by virtue of their gender.


For women? We have to navigate the waters of male-dom, understand their psyche more than they ever need to understand women's simply to stay in the workforce and rise up the corporate chain. We need to find allies, band together with those who can support and nurture us.


But what I do recognize is that this is the situation we face. There are men and women working to change the situation but in the meantime, the corporate workplace is still a combative environment, not a collaborative one. In order to stay in it, we have to play smarter and plan better. Merit, unfortunately, is not the only criterion for success.


If you are looking to get promoted and would like to talk through your workplace dynamics, I provide a free 1-1 coaching session. There is no obligation to continue working with me afterward and I am not trying to sell you anything. I simply want to help.


If you are interested, email me at fern@fernleecoaching.com to make an appointment.


Have a great day!

Fern

Fernleecoaching.com









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