You may not have heard the term managerial derailment but you may have witnessed it.
Managerial derailment is when an otherwise up-and-coming manager stalls out, gets fired or demoted, or otherwise has their career stopped in its tracks. It’s a problem, and one that affects women more than men, due to unconscious biases.
According to a study from the University of Florida, managerial derailment most often happens because supervisors make informal assessments that aren’t reflected in HR reports and performance reviews, and those informal assessments are usually subconscious.
“If you’re doing performance evaluations, there’s a record in an HR file you could reference, and gender bias could be identified and dealt with,” says Joyce Bono, one of the study’s co-authors. “But perceptions of derailment potential … [are] never recorded. They’re informal assessments that supervisors make, yet they have important implications for the opportunities that supervisors provide.”
They affect women more than men because, for one example, women are expected to be “nice” in our society, which is something that everybody is raised to believe by default. When a woman’s actions are at odds with the perceived way she’s supposed to act, supervisors see these women as less valuable candidates. These are mostly subconscious assessments, which are easy to miss.
The result is that female managers are seen as less desirable and aren’t given the same resources as other managers. Chief among these resources is mentoring, an area in which women typically have fewer opportunities than their male colleagues.
“Sponsorship and mentoring are even more important for women than men, because women are typically less connected to those higher in the corporate hierarchy,” says Bono, “in part because there are more men than women at higher levels.”
Bono suggests that executives and managers, as well as HR staff, pay attention to gender equality in terms of sponsorship and mentoring.
By examining our opinions and thoughts about people, and talking with those with other people of differing backgrounds and experiences, we can get better at noticing when we’re letting subconscious bias get in the way. It requires constant vigilance, but it can be done. An entire company will benefit from having the best managers—male or female—rise to the top.