Lady Lawyer Lessons*: Doesn’t Everyone Assume I Want to be Promoted?

For some entries, Lady Lawyer Lessons will respond to questions from the readership.  Questions submitted will be presented in a way that protects the anonymity of the questioner to the extent possible.

Q:  Hey Lady Lawyer!  I just heard that my male colleague is getting promoted.  But I’m the one who took the lead on our major project this year, and I’m the one who puts in longer hours and generates more earnings.  When I tried to bring this up with my boss, his response was: “Oh, you’re interested in a promotion?  Good to know!  We can think about it for next year.”  Why else would I have been busting my butt this year if it wasn’t to get recognition?  I mean, who doesn’t want to get promoted?  Am I really supposed to be going around saying — “I WANT TO GET PROMOTED” all the time?
~ Frustrated in Field Sales

Dear Frustrated in Field Sales,
You aren’t going to be too happy with my answer on this one.  Unfortunately, the rules are (unfairly) different for women and men on this one.

Part of the problem is that there is a persistent story that women don’t want promotions as much as men.  For example, in September of 2015, headlines in various business publications heralded that women didn’t want promotions.  In fact, some pieces linked a “Lack of Interest” in promotions to why fewer women were in leadership positions — see, for example, Bloomberg’s “One Reason Women Aren’t Getting the Promotion: They Don’t Want It.”  Ugh.


If you actually looked more closely at the study, you would have seen that the headlines were providing a VERY misleading framing.  Instead, the women surveyed had more priorities than men.  As in, they thought other things were also important.  But they still wanted promotions.  In fact, when asked point blank, “women and men say they want to be promoted in about equal numbers (75% and 78% respectively).”

So even the most well-intentioned boss may be assuming that men want promotions and women don’t.  That doesn’t make it legal (it isn’t), but it does mean that’s a reality you have to deal with.  How do you do that?

First, make an interest in advancement opportunities a part of your professional persona.  First impressions matter, so ideally you can do this from your earliest interactions with an employer.  I’m talking during interviews and on-boarding.  Let them know you aren’t just excited about the organization and the role you’ve been hired to fill, you’re also excited about learning how you can grow with the company to contribute even more.

Second, network.  Look for people higher-up in the company who have roles you find interesting or who have taken unusual or inspiring paths to get to where they are.  See if you can reach out to them to grab a coffee or learn more.  Take advantage of any mentoring or affinity group opportunities that may exist in the organization.  AND look for external professional organizations where you can also be

Third, use regular communications with your supervisor.  You should be bringing up promotional opportunities and what you need to do to be ready to promote in every mid-year and year-end review.  Reviews and evaluations shouldn’t be just about what you’ve done; they should also be about where you are going.  But also be sure to sell yourself and your accomplishments to your supervisors on a more regular schedule.  As I’ve discussed at greater length in an earlier post, “In most workplaces, it is important to make sure that your efforts are being acknowledged, framed in the context of how what you’ve done helps the business, and documented.”

Many companies do have regular schedules for when promotions happen, but most of those also have the ability to make exceptions or off-cycle adjustments where necessary. Often, those exceptions are made when someone has a competing offer to go elsewhere.  I would encourage you to have an honest conversation with your boss about your contributions and expectations.  If you aren’t happy with what you hear, you can always look on the market for a better offer — either to leave or to leverage for that promotion at your current employer.

* Lady Lawyer Lessons is a monthly column where Kate K shares tips she wishes her clients knew before they came to her (or any other lawyer) for help or advice. As always, this is not intended to constitute legal advice or to create an attorney client relationship.  Instead, these are just some of Kate’s “rules of the employment road” that are often a good idea but may not apply in a particular situation.

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Katherine Kimpel

Kate Kimpel is the Senior Editor of Shattering the Ceiling and is also an accomplished civil rights lawyer. She represents women and people of color in discrimination cases (and other kinds of employment and civil rights matters).  When not lawyering, she likely is bragging about her hound dog Ulysses, inventing cocktails to serve at her next dinner party, or convincing her husband to watch reruns of a Joss Whedon television show (any of them will do). 

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