At some point in their career, it becomes obvious that women are more under-promoted than men are in the same field. There are many reasons as to why it happens and unfortunately, the result of this phenomenon actually perpetuates the problem. It's a cycle that's hard to break. Dr. Tom Schuller recently wrote an essay in The Guardian about the "Paula Principle," which is a a play on the famous "Peter Principle." Just in case you didn't go to management school, the Peter Principle is the idea that most employees are often promoted based on their performance in one job and not the expectations of the next one.
So a boss will take into account, for example, that a sales guy is really good at running his accounts and then promotes him to a management job, asking him to oversee five other sales guy and their accounts. But just because someone is good at one job doesn't necessarily mean that they'll be great at another one. So, Schuller argues, most male bosses aren't actually great at their job — everyone just assumes they are.
The Paula Principle, as described by Schuller, is the opposite and posits that women are often employed below their level of competence, so they never even get to "rise to their level of incompetence," as men do.
This happens for a few reasons. A part of this is just plain old sex discrimination, but Schuller found that women psychologically don't go after promotions or sell themselves as much, in addition to still doing the majority of childcare and housework.
And although women are more highly trained (because of the types of careers they pursue and that they attend more optional training sessions than men), they're still overlooked for promotions.
This is a problem for a few reasons.
It Hurts Families, Too
If you think about it, it's totally unfair that women are under promoted, as it messes with their entire family. Already, women face the gender wage gap. When you toss in the fact that they're also still doing most of the childcare and housework, that means that women are basically working around the clock for less money. And they're technically better than their male counterparts, if you take the Peter Principle into account. This means they're bringing home less cash for doing twice (if not more) the work. Under promoting women hurts everyone, but perhaps especially working mothers.
It Sets A Bad Example
Nothing can be more discouraging than watching a woman "do it all" and not reap any reward. It sets a bad example for young women everywhere, who are looking up to that under-promoted woman, crushing her job and killing it when it comes to raising a family, and still not getting anywhere. It can be hard to find the point in setting off on a career path in the first place at that point. Working too hard and staying in the same place is also discouraging for women, too, and employers run the risk of essentially pushing them out of the office altogether.
It Perpetuates Gender Discrimination
Schuller found that many women work part time, for a number of reasons, and then are rendered almost invisible in the office. By keeping women in jobs that they're, frankly, too good for, employers set an example for other men and women who might look around see the gender disparity in the office. When women are under-promoted, the reason the boardrooms are full of men and the women are are still answering their phones is pretty apparent.
Schuller also notes that employers tend to scold women into acting "more like men" in the workplace, instead of encouraging men to pick up some slack when it comes to childcare and housework at home, or refusing to gender-label workplace habits. The more the culture punishes women for splitting their career with family life, and the more women are held to some strangely invisible — yet highly touted — "male" work ethic, the more these gender roles persist.
Nothing about this situation will change until employers realize the mistakes that they're making when it comes to recruiting, training, and retaining female talent. It's better for everyone — including a company's bottom line — when women are given the jobs they're qualified for. Hopefully, despite how it currently stands, that will change soon.