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April 10, 2018, 1:25 p.m. EDT

Why don’t more women get promoted?

Women are more likely to be ‘top performers,’ but less likely to be the boss

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By Maria LaMagna


Netflix/Courtesy of Everett Collection
Even though women are often top performers, they are still not reaching managerial positions.

Women are more likely to be considered “top performers” at work. So why aren’t more of them getting promoted?

A new report from the data company Visier found that in 2015, 2016 and 2017, women were more likely than men to be considered “top performers” by their companies.

In 2017, women were 21% more likely to achieve “top performer” status than men, up from 12% in 2015. Among managers, women came out even further ahead: Women who were managers in 2017 were 22% more likely than male managers to be rated as “top performers.”

And yet women under 40 were less likely than men to receive a promotion, Visier found.

Why the disconnect? Women are more likely than men to take steps back — or leave the workforce entirely — when they have children, said Josie Sutcliffe, the vice president of marketing at Visier.

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Some 42% of mothers who worked at some point in their lives said they reduced their work hours to take care of a child or another family member at some point in their career, Pew Research Center, a nonprofit based in Washington, D.C., found in 2013. Just 28% of fathers said they had reduced their hours.

The findings come as women mark another Equal Pay Day , this year falling on April 10, the date in the calendar year when a woman’s typical earnings would catch up with a man’s typical earnings from the previous year.

Visier’s analysis also showed that the gender pay gap shows no signs of narrowing. Women under 40 are earning about 79 cents for every dollar men earn, and women over 40 earn about 82 cents for every dollar men earn, Visier found.

But the report had one relatively bright spot: Older women are more likely to get promoted than older men. When they are younger than age 40, women receive about nine promotions to every 10 that men receive. However, when they are older than 40, women are slightly more likely to be promoted than men are.

At that age, childcare demands may have lessened, which is one reason they are able to take those roles on, Sutcliffe said.

Men are also more likely to be managers in the first place. In 2017, 18% of men held manager positions, compared to 12% of women.

This isn’t the first report that shows women can fall behind, despite their prowess at work. Women’s median earnings are lower than men’s in nearly every occupation, according to another report released this week from the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, a nonprofit think tank.

Women are also avoiding some high-paying fields, such as engineering in part because they believe they won’t be supported in those industries, according to a study in the American Educational Research Journal.

In the U.S., women account for just 35% of bachelor’s degree recipients in the STEM fields. The study showed that women aren’t necessarily bothered by industries requiring math and science knowledge, but they are worried about their futures in fields where there are few women already working.

There are some signs that employers are finally allowing women to make more progress at work.

Of all the CEOs who were replaced in 2017, women made up 18% of their replacements, up from 15.3% in 2015, according to research from global outplacement consultancy firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas.

Having three or more women on a company’s board of directors also helps companies perform better financially, a paper from the financial planning firm MSCI concluded. It found that a more diverse workforce leads to a greater diversity of ideas.

“Ultimately, half of the workforce is women,” Sutcliffe said, “so the more you engage and keep women in the workforce, the better it will be for employers.”

Maria LaMagna covers personal finance for MarketWatch in New York.

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