Women cannot progress in their science careers without the ability to self-advocate. However, there are barriers to this that business leaders need to remove.

Diverse, inclusive and equitable companies are something many organisations are striving for. Achieving this goal will require women in positions of leadership. However, while top-down methods of empowering female employees – such as mentoring and sponsorship – are certainly helpful, they are insufficient on their own.

In order to achieve the goal of more female leadership, women need to be able to self-advocate for promotions, pay rises and other forms of progression. Unfortunately, this is not currently the case.

While 91 percent of women are successfully able to negotiate pay rises when they ask, only 59 percent actually ask in the first place, [1] with these statistics being similar for promotions. Here’s how you can empower more women to self-advocate in your organisation.

Provide information

While the women in your organisation might be incredibly knowledgeable about their scientific field, they might not be aware of how to actually progress in their job. This is a major barrier to advocacy, as less than a fifth of women are aware of what they would need to do in order to get a promotion. [2] Without knowing whether or not they have achieved enough to progress, it will be much harder for women to ask for a promotion.

Providing information is key, and the best way to do this is with a clear promotion structure. If your employees know what is expected of them in order to reach the next level of their career, they will be more likely to understand when they’ve reached this point and will be more able to advocate for themselves.

Ensure credit is given

In academia, when men write a research paper as part of a team, they get about as much credit as if they were the sole author. However, women in the same situation get close to zero credit. [3] This is a major blow to the confidence levels of female staff, and has a demoralising effect that stands in the way of self-advocacy.

Giving women credit for their work might seem like a simple thing to do, but it is something that doesn’t happen as often as it should. Providing positive feedback and ensuring women get credited for their work and ideas helps female employees gain the levels of confidence they deserve, making them much more capable of self-advocating.

Give specific feedback

Research from the Harvard Business Review found that on average, women get much less helpful feedback than men. [4] Vague terms such as “you had a good year” showed up in 57 percent of female employees’ performance reviews compared to 43 percent of their male counterparts, while 60 percent of men received feedback linked to business goals compared to just 40 percent of women.

This isn’t just unhelpful; it’s an active barrier to female self-advocacy. Without a good idea of what they’ve achieved or how they’ve helped the business – or could help in the future – women will have an inaccurate idea of their skills and abilities in the workplace. The field of science and technology deals in data and hard numbers; these should be applied to female employees to ensure they understand how they are contributing to the organisation overall.

By providing opportunities for self-advocacy, you can ensure your female employees have the tools they need to progress through your company and the industry as a whole. You can find out more about developing female talent and making scitech more inclusive here.

 [1] Time to talk: What has to change for women at work, PwC, March 2018

 [2] Driving Diversity & Inclusion in the Workplace: The Strive for Gender Parity, Robert Walters, June 2019

 [3] Gender Differences in Recognition for Group Work, Harvard University, November 2017

 [4] Research: Vague Feedback Is Holding Women Back, Harvard Business Review, April 2016

Nick Ross

Author Nick Ross

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