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Effective career tactics depend on gender

Business people looking up a ladder.

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Post-MBA, how should women behave in the workplace? Not how you would expect, it seems.

According to a report published today by Catalyst, the U.S. non-profit membership organization that seeks to expand opportunities for women in business, female MBA graduates need to think carefully about their tactics to guarantee success.

Authors Nancy Carter and Christine Silva studied 3,345 MBA graduates who have been working full-time in companies since finishing their studies between 1996 and 2007. Of this group, the women who were the most proactive – named the "Hedgers" – gained little advantage over the women who did the minimum – the "Coasters." In contrast, twice as many male Hedgers to women Hedgers had advanced to senior executive or chief executive level by 2008.

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The report – The Myth of the Ideal Worker: Does doing all the right things really get women ahead? – also shows that female MBA graduates who changed jobs after graduation were less successful than those who stayed with the same employer. "Among women Job Hoppers, compensation growth was $53,472 less than women Stayers, who were still with their first employer," the report states. Again, things were different for the male "Job Hoppers." They earned $13,743 more by 2008 than those men who stayed with their first post-MBA employer.

Overall it seems men are evaluated on potential while women are evaluated on performance. As a result, the report concludes female MBA graduates should focus primarily on promoting their achievements and networking with senior leaders to secure sponsorship.

"The strategies to be most impactful for women in furthering their careers and increasing their salary growth and satisfaction were making achievements known and gaining access to powerful others," the report says. "Making achievements known may help women secure sponsorship from senior leaders … As sponsors may need to put their reputation on the line to advocate on behalf of someone they see as high potential, clearly communicating prior achievements and aspirations can help potential sponsors understand how and why they should sponsor someone."

Eleanor Tabi Haller-Jorden, general manager of Catalyst Europe, says the report exposes long-held myths that the gender gap exists solely because of choices women are making: myths that they don't use proactive strategies, for example, or that they seek out slower tracks. As a result, companies should also be changing their tactics. "It's not about fixing the women; it's about fixing the work force," she says. "Companies need to take greater stock of their talent management."

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