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The Themes of Career Success: Self-Initiation

After twenty-seven years of conducting gender diagnostics with organizations across the globe, and in the process, amassing over 240,000 survey responses with men and women leaders, the results of this North American survey are some of the highest scores we’ve seen for women in their perceptions of self and career success.

Our first diagnostic visual shows the scores given by our senior women respondents in the order that each theme was presented to them: Career Advancement, Self-Initiation, Leadership Maturity, Big Picture, and Leadership Responsibility.

This one graphic represents the overall findings of our study. As you can see in the center or bull’s eye of our Diagnostic Wheel, the scores for each of the five themes cluster around a center—or core of positive outlook— with Big Picture receiving the highest self-score of 87%. Leadership Responsibilities received the second highest at 86% followed by Leadership Maturity (82%), Self-Initiation (77%), and Career Advancement (74%).

What is most interesting and valuable in this graphic is their strength and self-confidence in their thoughts and actions, looking for the win-win approach, and centering their attention on achieving their organization’s strategic goals.

The circle around each score represents the standard deviation or indication of the level of agreement among the respondents. As this first illustration shows, Big Picture and Leadership Responsibilities have the highest scores and lowest deviations. What this says is that most all the women in our study are on the same page when it comes to their dedication to the success of the organization and self-confidence that their talents and skills are paving the right course. There is little self-doubt in their ability and readiness to lead.

Interestingly, the lowest scores and greatest deviations are in Career Advancement and Self-Initiation. It seems that the same challenges faced by many women in middle management still surface even among these successful women.

Let’s continue to look into each of these themes to see why the women in our survey rated each of the five areas they way they did—this week we look at Self-Initiation.


4. Self-Initiation

Of the Five Themes of Career Success, our women gave themselves low scores in Self-Initiation. It appears that the same career advancement challenges faced by women in the middle of their careers are still present even among these women at the top.

Self_Initiation_White_PaperThis reveals itself most in both navigating the system and accessing informal networks. The challenge is in self-promotion, advocating for themselves, and expressing their talents (76%). And the high degree of deviation around this score suggests that a number of women find it a major obstacle.

Men, tend not to have difficulty speaking up for themselves and their potential to meet the requirements of a position, even without having experience in that role or function. Women, on the other hand, tend to be less vocal about their future abilities and speak more to their actual experiences.

Recruiters and company leaders often interpret this reluctance not as a display of honesty and integrity, but as a lack of self-confidence and uncertainty. As a result, women are often compared negatively to men, who tend to approach interviews with an “offense” mindset, seeing themselves entitled to the position or worthy of a higher salary.

The women in our survey also score themselves low in negotiation (74%). This aligns with our experience that women are very powerful when negotiating for their teams and departments but not so much for themselves for position and salary. It’s both a natural inclination and learned behaviour for women to safeguard and develop their relationships, teams, and environment.

Their overall reluctance to negotiate for self is a huge challenge in their career advancement. What may help them overcome this challenge is realizing that their general reluctance not only affects their personal compensation and advancement, but can also affect their budgets, employee headcount, and other operational resources gained through position power.

“I’ve learned by watching how men self-promote and behave in negotiations, and I grew to understand how my mindset was unconsciously influencing my own actions and being misinterpreted by my male colleagues and clients.”

This particular study on “Negotiation and the Gender Divide,” by Linda Babcock and Sara Laschever, shows that men and women approach negotiation differently, primarily because they view the process and the relational aspects of negotiation differently.

Many women at the top still say they feel uncomfortable and apprehensive in promoting themselves. So how do successful women deal with self-promotion and negotiation and find their own personal breakthroughs?

One senior woman in banking and finance put it this way: “I’ve learned by watching how men self-promote and behave in negotiations, and I grew to understand how my mindset was unconsciously influencing my own actions and being misinterpreted by my male colleagues and clients. I had all the skills and experience but I was my own worst enemy. My self-confidence wasn’t coming through. I learned how to frame my requests and presentation of myself and my abilities in ways that my male colleagues and clients could better understand and act upon.”


The above is excerpted from our White Paper in partnership with Thomson Reuters, “Solutions to Women’s Advancement.”