Climbing as a metaphor for career successThere is a very modern emphasis on getting a good education, a degree, a PhD, a professional qualification to set you climbing the career ladder to success.

It feels as if we’ve been told that this piece of paper attesting to our academic achievement will open doors to success, reward and satisfaction. And for many it does just that. But the evidence proves that the other side of this magical door does not provide a level playing field where all equally qualified and able contestants have equal opportunity in the career advancement marketplace.

People who are different often miss out on opportunity. Difference comes in many forms. It can be gender – men and women often have very different experiences of advancement in the workplace. It can be race, colour, religion. Being different to “the guys at the top” in any way can open up a gap so that men who don’t conform to a stereotypical “leader” profile in any field be disadvantaged.

The difference gap can be bridged, but by the few and at a price that can be very high in terms of the extra requirement for achievement or performance that is required to cross that gulf.

A Swedish study of applicants for research grant funding (Wenneras & Wold, 1997) quantified the productivity gap between men and women at 2.6… that is, female applicants for grant funding had to be 2.6 times as productive in terms of the research publications before they were judged to be as competent as a male applicant in this process.

You might think that a study nearly 20 years old would be out of date?

A further study published in 2012 (Moss-Racusin et al) evidenced that CVs submitted by supposedly male authors for appointment to a laboratory manager position were consistently rated higher quality and more competitive than the identical applications from supposedly female candidates. The male candidates received more job offers, were offered higher starting salaries and offered more opportunities for mentoring than were female candidates.

In order to succeed in professional careers, women need to adopt different strategies to men and to be very aware of the need to communicate their skills in ways that are more likely to be noticed and valued by the people making the hiring decisions.

This is a key area that I work on with coaching clients as the presentations – whether on paper or in person, need to authentically represent the individual. There are certainly guidelines and strategies, but how each person expresses that will be individual to them. Equality in these situations does not mean identity.

It is true that we do need to change the system that allows such biased assessments. We do need to educate managers and people on selection panels. I support, encourage and even deliver such activities.

And at the same time I work with individual women and men, to maximise their chances of presenting themselves effectively in interviews for appointment or promotion in their career. Success in a professional career has many different strands. The more you can weave into your personal career strategy, the more secure will be your path to success. If you want to discuss your plans with me, do drop me a line or get in contact by clicking the link under my photograph.