Women and the Politics of Promotion

by Jennifer Miller on March 23, 2015

in Book Review, Office Politics, Workplace Issues

Politics of Promotion book coverResearch indicates that ambitious women are in a double bind—if they’re too aggressive, then they’re seen as threatening; if they’re too accommodating, they’re not seen as senior leadership material. Even though this bind is easing as more women assume top leadership roles, it’s still evident in many organizations, particularly those that are traditionally led by men.

To overcome this double-bind, women need immense political savvy, overlaid against the backdrop of understanding “how things work” in a male-dominated workplace. Women who wish to contribute at the most influential levels in their organizations need a plan for their careers—one that takes into account their unique skills and allows them to confidently showcase their talents. They also need the strategic acumen to build alliances throughout the organizations with people who have the power to help them get promoted.

Executive coach and former business executive Bonnie Marcus has written an excellent roadmap for women seeking to rise above the conundrum that is gender and leadership at work. It’s called The Politics of Promotion: How High-Achieving Women Get Ahead and Stay Ahead and I heartily endorse this book. The concepts outlined in The Politics of Promotion align with my philosophy that “politics” can be positive, if used in the proper way. Another element of the book that I appreciate is the pragmatic focus: Marcus acknowledges the challenges that women face, then moves briskly into how to overcome the barriers with specific actions, checklists and reflection questions for the reader.

The first chapter of the book sets the stage for why women struggle with politics in the workplace. Marcus deftly makes the case for both political “skill” and “will” in the workplace, noting that, “the first thing you need to do is get real about what it takes to succeed.” Burying your head in the sand and saying, “Ew, office politics, yuck!” will limit your growth potential. Marcus introduces us to several highly competent, successful women and highlights their struggles and triumphs related to their career journey.

The next five chapters provide specific guidance for implementing the “tools” in what Marcus calls the “Political Tool Kit.” Each tool is named with a metaphor that highlights the tool’s ability to grow your political skill and increase your level of responsibility at work:

  • The Mirror – which provides the opportunity for self-reflection and uncovering your unique strengths
  • The Magnifying Glass – a tool for keenly observing what goes on around you at work
  • The Pass Go and Collect $200 Card – how to network strategically
  • The Get Out of Jail Free Card – how to develop sponsors (and how they’re different than mentors)
  • The GPS – how to use Executive Coaching to help you see the big picture of your career

Throughout these chapters, Marcus revisits the women we met in Chapter 1, expanding upon their experiences that demonstrate how the tools in the Political Tool Kit work.  Marcus does a nice job of interviewing a cross section of industries and work sectors. She features not only women from the C-level jobs in business (CEO, COO) but she also highlights women who are entrepreneurs, and work in government and the not-for-profit world. Each chapter also contains a specific list of bulleted statements for “What to look for” and “Things to consider” which helps the reader create a plan customized to her unique career circumstances.

Marcus wraps up her book with chapters on “Staying Ahead” – what to do once you’ve received the promotion of your dreams and “Moving Forward: Are You Ready?” which is designed give you a kick-start on your path to career growth.

I was especially impressed with Chapter 5, which is a thorough exploration of the development of sponsors (check out page 146 for the “2+1” Rule.) This is a topic that is likely unfamiliar to many women and one that Marcus assures us is the “fastest, most powerful way to advance your career.”

This book is best suited to women who are willing to, as Marcus says, “do the work” of reflecting on their skills, paying careful attention to workplace dynamics, and network to build alliances with peers and potential mentor and sponsors. Although the title directly refers to a “promotion”, I think this book would also be a great read for any professional woman who wants to be seen as influential in her organization, regardless of whether a promotion was part of the deal.

You can read more about Bonnie Marcus and download a sample book chapter here.


Disclosure: I received a free copy of this book for the purpose of writing this review. Also, some of the links are affiliate links, meaning if you click the link and make a purchase, I may receive compensation. This doesn’t increase the price of your item and I only review books that I believe my readers will benefit from.

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