You can argue that promotions should be based on merit, but who defines merit? “Merit is defined as the way leadership looks today and leadership today looks male,” business psychologist Rachel Short tells Hester Lacy in Forbes. Short is the author of “Cracking the Code,” which looks into why women succeed at work. She found, of course, that while many women succeed, they don’t often make it to the board level. Why not? Short gives Lacy three reasons.

In one sense, there is a supply and demand problem. Men tend to think there aren’t enough suitably qualified women when there certainly are. The problem is a lack of demand. “The vast majority of men simply don’t see [women’s failure to get to the top]  as an issue,” Short says. “They are not anti-women, they just don’t see it as an issue that affects them. You can provide the business case and that’s a great logical argument but it will only get so far: men have to connect with it personally.”

Short says her research found that organizations like to attribute a lack of women at the top to the loss of executives who do not return after having a second child. But that’s a fallacy. “There is a whole swathe of women sitting one and two levels below senior who just aren’t being promoted,” Short insists. The more senior women make it to the top, the more women will follow because that first wave will “make sure their organizations have gender-diverse shortlists” and bring up other women.

Finally there’s the hoary issue of the burden of balancing work and child rearing and Short insists “there is far too much emphasis on the effects of becoming a parent for women.” The issue is gender, not parenthood: All women run up against the same cultural blockages, whether they have children or not. Short says women with children with whom she spoke said they feared having children would hurt their careers, but in retrospect they believe it had “a marginal impact.”

Find Hester Lacy’s article about Rachel Short here. Then add your opinions on Join the conversation.

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