Can your gender affect your promotability?

Dear Joan:

I read your column religiously and pretty much agree with your advice.  You’ve also published one or two of my letters to you.   

First, a comment about last week’s column, How to deal with a disengaged manager. I am always trying to determine the gender of the writer because I think it impacts their perspective.  I may be wrong, but it sounds like the writer of this week’s letter is a woman.  If she is, then there is a good chance she will never be viewed as promotable because she will be viewed as that ‘woman behind every successful man’.  

The only way to overcome that is to either move to another company, or, if your company is big enough, move to a division where you are not really well known.  Most men would never cover for their managers this way but the woman who is used to nurturing and aiding those who have fallen by the wayside will very often be perceived as ‘motherly’ not ‘managerial’.   

If I were to be asked what one thing had the most impact on changing my behavior in the workplace so I did become promotable…is a book I think was called ‘Strategies for Working Women’ (probably published 15 years ago, but the advice is timely even today).   

This book forced me to look at all my bad habits that made me the last person who would be considered for promotion Today, I’m a former Senior Financial Analyst for an international corporation and now a CPA and Controller for a very large privately held company.   Without that one book – I’d still be in that motherly, nurturing role that so many women of the baby boomer generation fell into…thus missing the opportunity to be more.   

If the writer was a woman, I say, fast track yourself out of there…..  Keep up the great articles.  I am a devoted fan.  Also, I would love to see you publish feedback from others on these articles. 


Nurturing mothers sacrifice for their children, patch up their mistakes, wipe their noses and sometimes complain about how they are devoted, yet ignored or unappreciated. As you so clearly illustrate, this unconditional love will get you nowhere in a business setting. 

The article you’ve referenced involved a former mentor who had retired on the job. He was doing more chatting than leading and his employee (the writer, who in this case happened to be a man) was feeling frustrated and resentful. He was loaded with work and peers sought him out as the leader because his boss wasn’t engaged. 

“The woman behind every successful man” may have some validity if you’re the wife. But if you are toiling in the shadows acting like a surrogate wife or mother, you will likely end up feeling unappreciated and never climb your own ladder. 

I’ll venture a guess as to some of the motherly behaviors you read about so many years ago: 

  • You clean up messes for other people. If someone makes a mistake or fails to complete their work, you do it for them. “Tsk, tsk,” you mutter. “It’s a good thing they have me around to handle these things.”
  • You’re the backstage mom. You are always in the shadows, buffing up the rising star’s Powerpoint presentation, researching and writing their reports, but they are always the ones in the limelight, getting the applause.
  • You put in more hours than anyone else because you hope someday it will all be worth it. You toil selflessly eating lunch at your desk, while others are spending their lunch hours running errands or lunching with business partners. The harder you work, it seems the more your manager dumps on you. Meanwhile, your peer, who is out working with the business partners, gets a promotion. “Oh well,” you rationalize. “My day will come.”
  • You believe your loyalty and sense of duty will be reciprocated. You are loyal to your manager, so you believe he will be loyal to you. But when he gets promoted to another division, you’re left behind. Rather than be seen as his replacement, you’re kept in an administrative role, only to start all over again with your new boss. 

What are the alternatives?

  • Pitch in and do your share to help someone who is struggling, but don’t continue to cover up for someone else. If they don’t do their work, hand it back.
  • Raise your hand and step into the spotlight. Look for opportunities to get visibility and ask your manager to put you in the lead on projects and presentations. If you do all the research and analysis on your manager’s project, ask to come along to answer questions when it’s presented.
  • Spend your time doing value-added work, like customer interface, rather than spending time perfecting and polishing administrative paper work.
  • Loyalty has its place but recognize that your career is your responsibility.  

Joan Lloyd is a Milwaukee based executive coach and organizational & leadership development strategist. She is known for her ability to help leaders and their teams achieve measurable, lasting improvements. Joan Lloyd & Associates, specializes in leadership development, organizational change and teambuilding, providing: executive coaching, CEO coaching & leader team coaching, 360-degree feedback processes, retreat facilitation and presentation skill coaching and small group labs. Contact Joan Lloyd & Associates at (414) 573-1616,, or 
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