Tag Archives: workplace contest

Career Advancement as Contest – Tournament and How to Win

Olivia Mandy O'Neill

Olivia Mandy O’Neill

If you work in an organization, you gave tacit agreement to participate in a Workplace Tournament, according to (Olivia) Mandy O’Neill of Wharton and Charles O’Reilly of Stanford.
They contend that careers unfold as a series of tournaments in which employees at lower levels compete with each other for career advancement.

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, now of Emory University.

Brian G.M. Main

Brian G.M. Main

“Winners” in the contest for advancement shared two characteristics in O’Neill and O’Reilly’s study MBA graduates’ incomes over an eight-year period.

James Wade

James Wade

Those with highest incomes four years after graduation said they preferred “masculine” organizational culture, and this relationship was stronger for women than men.

Eight years after graduation, men’s salaries were significantly higher than women’s, attributable to the greater number of hours men worked per week.
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 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

Organizational hierarchies dominated by men were preferred by high-earners, and were associated with women advancing less frequently into lower and middle management, according to Phyllis Tharenou of Flinders University.

Employees with managerial aspirations and masculine preferences were more likely to advance in management roles, she found.
However, 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.
This finding suggests that 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.
In contrast, women have less experience capitalizing on organizational “sponsorship” by advocates for their advancement.
Taken together, these studies suggest that women can improve opportunities for advancement by:

  • Recognizing that advancement is a tournament,
  • Behaving as a strategic competitor,
  • 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,”
  • Becoming comfortable operating in “masculine” organizations,
  • Identifying social support inside organizations,
  • Seeking and cultivating advocates and sponsors.

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


©Kathryn Welds