Career Advancement as Contest–Tournament: How to Win

Olivia Mandy O'Neill

Olivia Mandy O’Neill

If you work in an organization, you tacitly agreed to participate in a Workplace Tournament for advancement, according to (Olivia) Mandy O’Neill of Wharton and Charles O’Reilly of Stanford.
They contend that careers are a series of tournaments in which employees with for promotion to higher organisational levels.

Charles O'Reilly

Charles O’Reilly

The prevalence of implicit workplace contests was validated in O’Reilly’s study of executive pay with University of Edinburgh’s Brian G M Main and James Wade, of Emory University.

Brian G.M. Main

Brian G.M. Main

Participants with highest incomes four years after MBA graduation in O’Neill and O’Reilly’s study said they preferred “masculine” organizational culture.
This preference was stronger for high-earning women than for men.

Eight years after graduation, men’s salaries were significantly higher than women’s.
During this period, many women MBA graduates took time off or reduced the number of hours work to care for relatives, reducing the average number of hours worked.

One non-MBA mother whose income did not suffer from taking time off for family responsibilities is Marissa Mayer, former CEO of Yahoo.
In 2012, she took two weeks for parental leave, and her total compensation for the year was USD $36.6 Million.

Phyllis Tharenou

Phyllis Tharenou

Women in organisational hierarchies dominated by men less frequently progressed to management roles even though they may earn more than women in other organisations, according to Phyllis Tharenou of Flinders University.

Employees with managerial aspirations and masculine preferences were more likely to advance in management roles, she found.
These effects were offset by “career encouragement” such as mentoring and structured career development programs.

Denise Conroy

Denise Conroy

With Denise Conroy of Queensland Technology University, Tharenou studied more than 600 female managers and 600 male managers across six organizational levels.
Women’s and men’s advancement was most closely correlated with workplace development opportunities and organizational structure.
Structural, policy and program changes can increase the number of women in top leadership roles.

Women tend to excel in explicit workplace contests, such as in public sector jobs, yet women in other sectors can improve opportunities for advancement by:

  • Recognizing that advancement is a tournament,
  • Competing strategically,
  • Communicating interest in advancement,
  • Seeking employment in organizations with formal career advancement programs, mentoring, and development training,
  • Seeking employment in organizations that support flexible work practices and use technology to enable employees to work “anytime, anywhere,”
  • Gaining experience in “masculine” organizations,
  • Identifying social support inside organizations,
  • Seeking and cultivating advocates and sponsors.

    *How do you manage workplace “tournaments” for career advancement?

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©Kathryn Welds

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