Psychology Today: Here To Help

Increasing Future Potential Of Women Managers

As a general rule, female managers are more pessimistic about their promotability than their male counterparts. And there is a valid basis for this perception. Professor Caroline Cochran of the University of Minnesota studied more than 2,800 high potential mangers. Each of these mangers filled out a questionnaire analyzing their perceptions of their own performance. These high potential managers' supervisors were also asked to evaluate performance.

Women received slightly higher ratings than men with respect to managerial competence in their present positions. Men, however, received significantly higher ratings than women with respect to perceived long range potential. This research confirms other studies which show that gender stereotype plays more of a role in evaluating future potential than it does in evaluating current managerial performance. When evaluating future potential, evaluators are making many assumptions. Current performance evaluation lends itself to more visible measures.

The Role of Self Confidence

Self-confidence plays a role in how your boss perceives your longer term promotability. But it plays a surprising role. Women's ratings of their own performance were generally in line with the ratings given to them by superiors. In other words, women displayed realistic self-appraisal. Male managers' self ratings were inflated relative to how they were actually perceived by superiors.

The fact that women managers get fewer promotions was documented by Personnel Decisions, Inc. of Minneapolis, our Lincolnshire International affiliate. The firm studied 800 managers at one organization. The majority of "promotions" in this company were really lateral moves when you closely evaluate job content. When examining work and title changes where power or responsibility significantly moved upward, nearly 15% of male managers received real promotions. Women only received nearly 9% of real promotions.

What's To Be Done?

These studies suggest the following action strategies for female managers:

Carefully Scrutinize the "Future Promotability" Component of the Performance Appraisal. Male managers are likely to insist on high ratings in this category, even if they don't deserve it. Insist on the most glowingstatements you can get, just like males do. Such insistance establishes a tone that you have high expectations for promotion. If your company is ever acquired, then you have a strong and consistent paper trail of superiors noting your high upward mobility potential.

In a more ideal world, the operating motto should be "Competence Gets Rewarded." As these studies indicate, we are more than a few years away from that world!

Laurence J. Stybel,Ed.D. and Maryanne Peabody are co-founders of Stybel Peabody Lincolnshire, a Boston-based career management consulting firm specializing in executives who report to Boards of Directors. Corporate sponsored services include retained search, retained search avoidance, career coaching, and behavioral turn-arounds. They can be contacted at 781/736-0900 or There are Lincolnshire office in twenty five cities in three