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The 7 ways we undermine our own career progression

A new whitepaper launching today identifies the ways women can stymie their own career progression. The good news is you can change this and take charge!

Let me ask you a question: do you believe any of the following to be true?

  • I would like to progress to an executive role, but honestly believe it’s a boy’s club and no matter how hard I work I’ll never get to the top
  • I am interested in promotion but I don’t yet have all the experience or skills that are required for the job, so I haven’t put myself forward.  Once I’ve addressed those gaps I will put my hand up.
  • I believe the key to getting promoted is to work hard and prove myself
  • If I just learn to negotiate a bit better it will make such a difference to my pay and promotion prospects
  • I hate organisational politics.  I would rather keep out of politics than ‘play the game’
  • To be an effective leader I need to conform to the typical leadership style demonstrated in my organisation
  • If I work in a function with more women, such as Human Resources or Marketing, I am more likely to get promoted


These all sound reasonable, don’t they? I’ve had many conversations about careers with female friends and colleagues and hear many of these statements.  I know I’m not the only one to feel this way, so there must be some truth to these statements, right?

Well I’m here to tell you that you’re wrong. Very wrong.

I have just spent several years looking into men and women’s career progression in depth, to understand the real reasons there are fewer women at the top of organisations. And I can tell you that often our beliefs about career progression are getting in the way. They are not the only reasons for there being fewer women at the top, not by a long stretch, but these are things we can and should take control of.

Today I am publishing my whitepaper on the 3 Barriers to Women’s Progression.  The findings might surprise you.  For example research has validated something some of us have long suspected – men over-state their performance and women under-state their performance. A survey of MBA students found that women tend to have a more conservative view of their own abilities than men. The research revealed that 70 per cent of women rated their own performance as equivalent to that of their co-workers, while 70 per cent of the men felt their performance exceeded that of their co-workers.  They can’t both be right!  Also, research has found that women apply for jobs only if they think they meet 100 percent of the criteria listed, whereas men will apply if they feel they meet 60 percent of the job requirements.

The simple message from this research is that you ought to be putting your hand up for promotion before you feel you are 100 per cent ready.  When you think about it, no one is every 100 per cent ready for a job they haven’t done before.

Another finding is that whilst women tend to see organisational politics as distasteful and are less likely to engage in ‘politicking’, this can have disastrous consequences for career progression. Women with high levels of political skill are more likely to achieve career progression in male-dominated organisations. Largely it comes down to how we define politics.  If you see it as a purely self-serving, underhanded series of actions then understandably you won’t want to engage.  But I rather favour this definition of organisational politics: “Alliance-building to achieve organisational objectives”.  The reality is that politics simply means understanding where power lies and who needs to be in your camp when you need support. By not engaging we miss a vital opportunity to positively influence organizational outcomes as well as our own career trajectory.

For the rest of the findings please visit my website to download the free whitepaper:


Sharon Peake is the founder and MD of Shape Talent Ltd, a boutique consultancy established with the sole purpose of getting more women into senior leadership roles in business. We work with organisations to remove the barriers to women’s progression and we work with individual women, coaching them to achieve their career potential.  For tips and ideas on managing your career please sign up to our newsletter.

Sharon Peake

Sharon Peake

Founder, CEO and Executive Coach

I am an experienced business leader and executive coach with over 20 years' experience in global blue chip businesses focused on career development for individuals and strategic people management for organisations. Over the course of my career I have interviewed thousands of individuals and helped organisations select and grow the best talent. I know what helps careers, and I know what hinders careers. I truly believe that the world would be a better place with as many women as men running companies, which led me to establish Shape Talent - a gender diversity coaching and consulting business geared at accelerating gender equality in business and beyond. In my coaching work I specialise in helping women leaders and executives to achieve their potential, navigate career transitions and ensure a fulfilling and rewarding career. As a Chartered Occupational Psychologist I bring a psychological perspective to my coaching, looking at the underlying factors that influence the way we behave and respond to situations. Where it helps the client I can use a range of psychometric assessments to bring greater clarity and self-awareness to patterns of behaviour. My clients describe me as insightful, open, warm, encouraging and focused on ensuring the client’s success.