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Dear ReWorker: Is It Sexist to Promote a Male Employee Over Two Females?

Suzanne Lucas

Founder, Evil HR Lady

Dear ReWorker,

I manage three analysts: one male and two females. All analysts have been working in the field for a similar amount of time, but one of the women is currently on maternity leave. The male analyst recently asked for a promotion to a senior analyst position. This role doesn't technically exist, so we'd have to create a new job title and job description. He's a great employee and is willing to take on more work, but I'm concerned that creating a new position for him and not for the other two women in the group might be construed as sexist—especially since one of the women is out on maternity leave. I'm afraid that without the promotion, the male analyst will leave. But I'm also worried that if I promote him and not the others, I'll get hit with a discrimination complaint. I know a quick fix would be to just promote all three of my employees, but I don’t have the budget to give everyone a raise, so I need to be selective. What should I do?


Promotion Problems


Dear Promotion Problems,

First, take a step back and look at the situation holistically. Not everything is about gender. If this were a vacant position that you needed to fill, you'd only be able to promote one person. This situation is different because there is no open position, and you're responding to an employee request.

You could say, "John asked for the promotion, so we gave it to him. We'd give one to Jane and Sue if they asked, too, but they didn't." You could also argue, "John volunteered to take on extra work with a promotion, and so we gave it to him. Now that he's doing it, we do not need another person to do this advanced work." Both are probably fine from a legal standpoint, but you're smart to be concerned on a moral level.

Here's what I would do.

Ask Yourself: Do I Really Need A Senior Analyst?

Today’s employees want to work somewhere they can learn and grow. When they don’t see advancement opportunities, they begin to look elsewhere. So in your case, adding a senior analyst position is probably smart for your long-term retention strategy. But before you do, consider the motivation behind it: What do you hope to accomplish by creating this new position? Do you need a senior staff member who can execute higher-level work, or do you simply need more resources to help you reach your bottom line?

Once you reach an answer, write out a job description and then benchmark the position. Does this job description warrant a higher salary and title? If so, what should that look like? Separate yourself from what you know about your team members and, instead, consider the market and the specific needs of your organization.

Post the Position

If you complete this exercise and decide you would benefit from hiring a senior analyst, and the market rate for such a job would be a higher title and pay grade than what you are paying your current analysts, go ahead and post the job description.

This might seem unfair. After all, it was John’s idea to create this position—shouldn’t he be rewarded? Not necessarily. If it's a position that your company will benefit from, then you must fill it fairly. That means considering everyone who applies so that you can hire the best person for the job.

Now, let all three analysts know the job is available and encourage them to apply. You don't want to bother the analyst on her maternity leave, but you also don't want her to come back and find out that there was a promotion available and she wasn't considered for it. Send her a quick message and let her know that you're encouraging the whole team to apply—and that she should, too, if she’s interested.

Interview and Make a Decision

If John is the only one that wants the job, and you believe he has the qualifications to take on the higher level work, give him the job. But if the other two employees also want it, you’ll need to evaluate each analyst’s specific qualifications and choose the best fit. That might be John, but it might not be.

John is likely to be upset, and he may quit. But if he's not the best person for the new job, you shouldn’t offer it to him.

Navigating the process with precision helps protect your business and ensures that the right person gets the promotion.

Photo: Creative Commons

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