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Increasing Promotability Amongst Aspiring Women Leaders

In a prior blog post, we shared how women only retain about 7.2% of Fortune 500 CEO positions and 25% of C-suite jobs in the top 1000 companies (American Association of University Women, 2021). With such startling statistics, it is quite prevalent that there is still a major gap in equity and opportunity for women in leadership positions. Though the question still remains of—why is this the case? While there are likely a variety of attributable factors, recent research highlighted one prominent one, “agentic” qualities—qualities that pertain to self-assertion, independence, and ambition.

A group of researchers (Ma et al., 2022) set out to study these qualities and their effect on promotability. In particular, the researchers first identified several types of agentic qualities and following, conducted a series of experiments. Within these experiments, participants were asked if they believed that the women who possessed each trait would be promoted at a higher or lower rate when compared to a male counterpart with the same trait. 

The study showed that there were three key agentic traits that resulted in women appearing more promotable: competence, independence, and diligence. However, the quality of dominance was resulted in women appearing less promotable. 

Based on these findings, there are a number of practical implications to improve the equity with promotion decisions.

Provide personalized developmental opportunities.

Provide resources in order to increase the independence, competence, and diligence amongst aspiring female leaders. Training programs is a great option, but coaching can be even more impactful. 

Reframe management perceptions.

Amongst key decision-makers, it is also problematic that the quality of dominance is perceived as less desirable. As such, training managers and other key decision-makers on reframing such perceptions is also important. For example, behaviors that are generally perceived as displays of dominance (e.g., providing candid feedback) could be reframe to a more appealing competency (e.g., competence). 

Leverage inclusive language.

We’ve spoken previously on the importance of inclusive language in today’s workplace. Beyond the perceptions of behaviors, it is also critical that the language used within the organization be inclusive such that it empowers everyone to be their authentic selves. For actionable ways of doing so, check out a prior post here. 


Ma, A., Rosette, A. S., & Koval, C. Z. (2022). Reconciling female agentic advantage and disadvantage with the CADDIS measure of agency. Journal of Applied Psychology. Advance online publication.