In order to get ahead in our careers, many of us have been doing our homework: We’ve been pulling on the bookshelves and bookshelves’ worth of advice on how to take our rightful seat at the table, to “go girl,” boss up, lean in, know our worth, close our confidence gap, be worth it.
All of this advice is so well-meaning. (I know — I’ve given a lot of it myself.) And it feels so great to receive it, because it’s a roadmap to success that we can each *slay.*
At Ellevest, we know there’s a lot of benefit in doing the hard work: clarifying our career goals, mapping our achievements, working with career coaches, making ourselves better at the jobs we do and ready for the ones we want.
Except, as a rule … the hard work doesn’t always get us as far as we expect it to.
While we’ve all been focusing on driving our careers in a way that would have knocked our grandmothers’ girdles off, diversity in corporate America has been stuck in neutral; and the gender and racial pay gaps have been stubbornly static.
And I mean really static: The pay gap for women overall won’t close until 2059. And it’s even worse for women of color: Black women won’t reach equal pay until 2130. Hispanic women will wait until 2224.
Here’s what doesn’t get said in those career how-to books: You may not be the problem that needs to be fixed.
Repeat: You may not be the problem that needs to be fixed.
The problem is “Todd.” The problem is that you may be working for a “Todd.”
Who’s Todd? Todd is a middle manager. For many of us, Todd’s the person who directly decides whether or not you’re getting that raise, that promotion, that seat in the room. And Todd just never seems to promote us — or anyone who looks like us.
A big part of the issue is that you probably don’t even know that you work for a Todd. He is well camouflaged among so many other Todd-like middle managers. So take this quiz to see if you work for a Todd — and what you can do about it.
Which better describes your manager?
A) Seems like a nice guy. Really likable. In strong demand for golf foursomes at the summer outing.
B) Gives off serious woman-hating vibes.
Answer: A. Todd is difficult to spot in the wild.
Do any of the below sound like your manager?
A) Went to unconscious bias training class and talks about it. A lot.
B) Read “Lean In.” Still talking about it. A lot.
C) Says his mother is his hero.
D) Has a daughter.
E) Says Lizzo was his Spotify top artist of the year.
F) Subscribes to Fortune magazine’s Broadsheet.
G) Has been known to describe himself as “woke.” Self-deprecatingly, I’m sure.
Answer: Any of the above … and your manager could still be a Todd.
One of the insidious things about unconscious bias is that managers often mean well and try hard. Todd’s heart could very well be in the right place.
How does your manager give you feedback?
A) Is big on giving me feedback to advance my career. Like when I’m being too edgy or coming off as too ambitious. Or emotional.
B) Lets me know why I didn’t get the last promotion. It was because I needed more [insert specific skill] experience.
C) Lets me know why I didn’t get the promotion before that. I didn’t have enough [insert other specific skill] experience.
D) Lets me know why I didn’t get the promotion before that one. Just not exactly the right fit. And just a touch too edgy and ambitious. And emotional.
Answer: Could be any of the above.
The research tells us that white men are promoted based on potential, and women, particularly women of color, are promoted based on achievement. Not our imagination; that’s just been a truth.
The last person your manager promoted was:
Answer: Michael, of course.
Justin, John, Daniel, and Brandon were the white men he promoted before Michael (also a white man). I don’t know who Emily is.
In my performance review, my manager told me the feedback was that I was:
A) Too aggressive
B) Not aggressive enough
Answer: Could be either … and could be both.
(This one isn’t hypothetical. “Both” literally happened to me. One of my bosses gave me this exact feedback with a straight face. It’s the old double bind, in which Todds demand that women walk an impossibly thin line of having just exactly the right amount of certain qualities. Oh, and that line moves.)
My manager didn’t help advance our corporate-wide diversity initiative, so his pay was docked by:
A) Not much
B) Not much at all
Answer: Not much at all.
After all, the company also has sales targets, margin targets, market share targets, customer satisfaction targets, five-year plan milestones, number-of-Instagram-likes targets, and audit pass ratios that it also pays its managers for.
My manager is:
A) A cis white man
B) Not a cis white man
All of us can internalize a lifetime of gender stereotypes too, such that we all tend to think of white men when we are asked to picture a manager or leader.
OK, so by now you may have the feeling you’re working for a Todd. Next … do you know what the real effect is?
The amount that working for a Todd can cost you is:
A) $1 million over your career
B) Well more than $1 million over your career
C) More than just money: Confidence, fulfillment, intellectual engagement
Answer: It varies.
But recent research from Lean In and McKinsey tells us that just 72 women get that first promotion into management for every 100 men that do, which means women end up holding just 38% of management roles. (And, no it’s not because women leave to take care of children or because we don’t ask for raises at the same rate as men. It’s simple bias. It’s Todd.)
In order to get the promotion and raise you rightly deserve from a Todd, you should:
A) Re-read your how-to-get-ahead career books to *empower* yourself to *close your confidence gap* and *get all that you deserve.*
B) Truth bomb: This isn’t your fault, and you can’t “fix” it. Unless your company takes action to truly prioritize diversity — way beyond what they’re probably doing now — you need to get out of there, if you’re able to.
Answer: You know it’s B. Deep down, you’ve known for a while that it’s B.
It’s a weird year, and maybe you can’t leave your job right now. But it’s still good to have your eyes wide open to the real barriers that stop us from fulfilling our career goals: A middle management full of Todds is too often where diversity goes to die.
It’s pretty easy to see who cares about results, and who’s falling back on things like bias training and diversity groups even when they’re clearly not working. Look for the manager of a different department at your company whose team already reflects the world around them. Look for the leadership team of another company that does the same.
As we deal with a changing world, many of us are becoming more intentional about caring for ourselves, about what we eat, about how we spend our time — particularly this time of year. Financial self-care is just as important. That means being very intentional about our careers — who we work for and with.
So if you work for a Todd and are able to get away from him, now, it’s time to get started widening your job search, ramping up your networking (yes, remotely), and working on a plan. Then, when you’re out of there, tell your #ToddStory so people know how exactly this system stays broken.
And when we hear from our friends that Michael / Justin / John / Daniel / Brandon got their promotion (yet again), we can help them move from self-blame to an action plan of their own.
Friends don’t let friends work for Todds.
Short for “cisgender.” Describes a person whose gender identity matches cultural expectations for the sex they were assigned at birth.
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