Is (a lack of) office politics hindering women's progress?

A report suggests women aren't advancing at work because they're unwilling to be political animals.

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Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

Why aren’t there more women in leadership roles within UK plc? The latest theory comes from an HR consultancy called the Academy for Political Intelligence: it suggests that women just aren’t as political as their male counterparts, so they’re losing out as a result. The good news is that this isn’t because they’re incapable, it’s because they choose not to be. So there’s a solution to the problem: convince women that not all office politics is bad…

According to the API, its latest research has discovered ‘a genuine difference in the way in which men and women view and use political behaviours’. Or perhaps more precisely, it shows that women think there’s a difference: 75% of those surveyed (most of whom were women) think the political behaviour of men and women is different, while about two-thirds of women believe men are more politically active. But if you’re wondering what this means, exactly, the report has little in the way of answers: not many of those concerned could actually come up with any concrete examples, other than a few vague generalities about late-night alcohol-based networking and the like.

The API reckons this is a question of inclination, not ability. Its research apparently suggests that women don’t consider themselves to be less politically adept than men. However, it claims the vast majority of people – men and women – take a dim view of office politics in principle, and as a result many women choose not to get involved. On the other hand, 79% of women also think that they need to be more political to get ahead. You can’t have it both ways, and men appear to be better at reconciling these two views (or at least, ignoring such scruples).

The key, the consultancy claims, is to give women a more positive view of organisational politics. People have no problem it with it as a way to achieve collective goals (as opposed to personal ones). So if women can be taught to think about it in these terms, they might be less reluctant to play the game.

So does the API have a point? Well, in general, we’re a bit sceptical about reports that generalise about gender differences in the workplace, as this one does. And it might seem rather predictable that the Academy for Political Intelligence reckons that being more political is the solution to all our woes. But there is some evidence that – very broadly speaking – men are more adept at gaming the system, whereas women are more inclined to play by the rules (that’s thought to be one reason why girls out-perform boys at school, but not thereafter). So maybe it is onto something...


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Is (a lack of) office politics hindering women's progress?
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