Fix My Job: Advancement and Professional Development

Are you stuck in a rut at work?

Books and movies are full of tales where the hero rises from the mailroom to the boardroom. But it usually doesn’t work that way in real life. Too often, when you try to “scale the corporate ladder,” you find the scales tipped against you, and wind up stuck on the bottom rung.

Upward mobility ain’t what it used to be. Recent studies  show that it is easier to “move on up” in European countries than in the U.S., and “42 percent of American men raised in the bottom fifth of incomes stay there as adults.” And that’s just for the men! Most women in the workplace are familiar with the concept of the “glass ceiling” – the inability to get promoted beyond a certain level. That ceiling is no myth: almost half of the “Fortune 1000” companies have no women executives at all .

Who does get promoted? Well, The Brookings Institute reports , “People do move up and down the ladder, both over their careers and between generations, but it helps if you have the right parents.”

Of course, that’s not what you want to hear. Promotions should be based on merit, not on who your relatives are, or your gender or race. Getting a promotion is recognition for a job well done – and it also usually means you have a little more money in your pocket at the end of the month.

How to get the promotion you deserve.

Getting together: Promotions – and who gets them – can often set worker against worker, but it is important to remember that we’ll all be better off if there is opportunity and fairness in the workplace. That means a transparent system for who gets ahead, based on objective, measurable criteria that everyone knows about in advance.

This is particularly important if you think there is a specific group of you (because of gender, race, religion or another factor) being passed over for promotions. You can have more impact on your employer when you act together.

Unfair vs. illegal: It might be unfair if other people at work are getting promotions and you are not, but it’s not necessarily illegal. Private employers generally promote whoever they want. But…

  • They’re not allowed to treat you differently because of your race, color, religion, gender, ethnicity, disability, genetic information or age (if you’re over 40). If you think this is happening to you, check Fix My Job on Discrimination .
  • They’re not allowed to deny you a promotion because you refuse sexual advances from the boss! (See Fix My Job for Harassment .)
  • If you are working for the federal government, there are anti-nepotism rules to prevent your agency from hiring the boss’s – or some politician’s – son, niece or cousin-in-law. If you work for a state or city, there may or may not be laws in place about nepotism. For more detailed information, check with the Office of the Attorney General for your state, or with the city attorney for your municipality.Even some private-sector companies have anti-nepotism policies. If a suspicious number of promotions are going to folks with the same last name, you might want to check with your company’s HR department.

Useful Links

Article: What to Do When You’’re Denied a Promotion,  U.S. News & World Report

Government Report: The role of gender in job promotions , from The Bureau of Labor Statistics



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