Google’s promotion policy sucks for women
And at the end of the day, this also assumes that it is right and proper for a structure to be in place which requires you to *grab* tough/interesting work to prove yourself, as opposed to it being given to you. There is competition inherent in the foundational world-view behind that statement. Why so much competition? We are supposed to be on the same team and competing with other businesses, right? What about the woman who is happy to crush any assignment she is given but simply doesn’t want to have to compete for the assignments that will “prove” her abilities? Why must she step so far out of her comfort zone just in order for the company that pays her to make use of the talents they are paying her to use?
This really nails down what I see all the time with respect to women getting promoted or even just getting recognized for their achievements.
To paraphrase it, women tend not to compete for recognition as much as men, for whatever reason. Maybe they’ve been socialized not to, maybe it is a simple question of testosterone. I will go into why I think this happens below. But for now let me just say I get super pissed when a system has been set up to diminish the success of people simply because of this personality issue.
Google is one such system. At Google, one must self-promote. I believe the rule is that, after two quarters or so of getting good reviews, you are eligible to self-promote, but you don’t have to.
And guess what? That policy sucks for women. Women don’t do it as often. I’ll bet this is statistically significant, even though I don’t have the numbers. Hey Google, do the math on this policy! And then change it!
Here’s the first part of my theory of why this happens. Women are not as secure in their accomplishments. By the way, note I am not saying women are insecure and men are secure. I think it’s more like men are over-secure and women are realistic, kind of like those studies that shows that depressed people are realists and non-depressed people are optimists. I definitely have seen men who actually think they (individually) accomplished something which clearly took a team effort. Women are less likely to “forget” the help they received in making something happen. See this amazing blog rant on the subject from a professor at NYU.
Here’s the second part. Women tend to choose mentors (i.e. bosses or advisors) that are brilliant, thoughtful, and approachable. Typically this also means that those mentors are not the kind of bullying personalities that are best suited to promote their team. Even when one doesn’t have a choice in who your boss is, I claim this approach to pairing still happens in a business when that business decides who should be the boss of a woman.
Example in pure math: Yau at Harvard is famously dynasty-building with his students, but he’s probably not someone who has a tissue box in his office (to be fair I haven’t checked). I didn’t even consider taking Yau as my advisor, in part because he was super intimidating and seemed to challenge grad students with a ring of fire.
The reward for being brave in a situation like that are that he is fiercely loyal to his students once he accepts them, and helps them get great jobs. My point is that fewer women choose Yau-like personalities as their advisor (although it has to be said that Yau has had women students, including Columbia’s Melissa Liu). And thus fewer women end up with advisors that will land them jobs and give them good advice on how to get ahead. I just don’t think women are thinking about that aspect of a mentor the way men do (it’s also possible than men don’t think about it either but are less likely to shy away from rings of fire in general due to their “optimistic” egos).
I am not saying this is an easy problem to fix, because it’s not, and the best self-promoters will always do well no matter where they work. But I do think Google can do better than this; maybe they could think of something a bit more double-blind like the orchestra auditions.