I read a blog written by Lazlo Bock, the head of HR at Google. It was titled “5 Sure Fire Tips To Get That Promotion”. Each of the tips had value: Get feedback all the time, solve your boss’s problem, think 3 moves ahead, ask for the promotion, and have a firm grasp on reality. However, the fourth tip “ask for the promotion” included a reference to women I found startling. Bock said they encourage the engineers at Google to ask for promotions but at Google women wait longer than men to ask for a promotion. He attributed this to behavior in the classroom where young boys raise their hands while girls wait even when they are right. At the end of his blog Bock cited an academic study re: the “individual and sex differences from 1st to 6th graders”.
At Google Bock instituted a system of reminder emails encouraging women to ask for promotions. Thanks to the email reminders women at Google are now overcoming their prior problem and asking for promotions at a rate near to that of the male engineers.
The apparent lack of aggressiveness by the women at Google is what startled me. Based upon my own academic, yet not scientific study I arrived at the complete opposite position as Bock. My study is based upon 4 years of teaching in the school of business at Northeastern University in Boston. I taught classes in global marketing as well as global management. I taught in both the undergrad program and also the graduate MBA program.
The one place I agree with Mr. Bock is the fact the women did not raise their hand when they had something to say, even when they were right. The women I taught said what they had to say without bothering to raise their hand! If I made a point with which they disagreed they spoke out; if they had a question they asked it; if they wished to add to the discussion they added their point. When there was a group project women were the project leader as often as men. Cases were lively thanks to the willingness of women to speak out and add to the discussion. And in several instances women made incredibly insightful comments with wonderful candor that added to everyone’s education including mine. I have several students I still quote when certain subjects arise.
I cannot imagine the women I taught at Northeastern being reluctant to speak up professionally in any situation. My thirty plus year career in the advertising business as an executive supports the experience at Northeastern. The women with whom I worked were in general every bit as aggressive as the men and in fact more inclined to speak out on all issues including promotions.
I’ve written several blogs about the Gender Gap and the task in front of women to receive equal pay as men for equal jobs. Thus I was very sensitive when I read the blog by the HR head of Google. My question for him therefore concerns the culture at Google. Is there something in the culture at Google that kept women from feeling equal to men? Are the reminder memos more a reminder to the men to accept women as equals?
Bock’s first point references getting feedback all the time. This is feedback to him re: women. He may have made the wrong diagnosis of the problem. It might be the men at Google that have to change more than the women, or change at least equally as the women. As a manager, as I point out in my book “Theory You” we should always ask “have I given the people I manage the tools to succeed?” Good managers look at themselves first when there is a problem.