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Women being mentored but not promoted, HBR says

Monday, August 30, 2010  
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While more women than men have mentors, women are still less likely to be promoted, according to a recent report in the Harvard Business Review.

Mentors to women have less organization clout, putting women at a disadvantage in career advancement, according to "Why Men Still Get More Promotions,” which cites a Catalyst study of more than 4,000 high-potential employees.

Men have received 15 percent more promotions than women, according to the Catalyst survey results, which followed up a 2008 study. While the two groups of high-potential employees have had a similar number of lateral moves, men have received promotions after the lateral moves, while women were offered the moves in lieu of advancement, according to the report.

What's more, women are less likely than men to be actively sponsored by mentors who go beyond giving feedback and advice to actively advocate for their mentees and help them gain visibility in the company.

"Many women explain how mentoring relationships have helped them understand themselves, their preferred styles of operating and ways they might need to change as they move up the leadership pipeline,” noted the article’s authors, Herminia Ibarra, Nancy M. Carter and Christine Silva.

"By contrast men tell stories about how their bosses and informal mentors have helped them plan their moves and take charge in new roles, in addition to endorsing their authority publicly.”

Women are still perceived by often male-dominated committees as "risky” appointments for the highest-level jobs, according to the report. In a Harvard Business Review study of top-performing CEOs earlier this year, women were nearly twice as likely as the men to have been hired from outside the company.

"That finding suggest that women are less likely to emerge as winners in their firms' own CEO tournaments,” the authors wrote.

The most effective sponsorship programs to facilitate the promotion of high-potential women clarify and communicate goals, match sponsors and mentees on the basis of those goals, coordinate corporate and regional efforts, train sponsors on the complexities of gender and leadership and hold sponsors accountable, according to the report.

"More sponsoring may lead to more and faster promotions for women, but it is not a magic bullet,” the authors concluded. "There is still much to do to close the gap between men’s and women’s advancement.”

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