For every one of us who believes in equality for all, please forgive me for a moment.

While I know this is not the case in all situations, I wonder… is it possible that in some situations we unknowingly sabotage opportunities for advancement by asking the question—“Is this company/leadership team sexist?”

It’s especially worth taking a pause and gathering some information before jumping to such a strong conclusion.

The reason?

We tend find what we’re looking for.

The moment we come to that conclusion, we automatically begin looking for cues to support it. All the while, we may miss the cues to reassure us that with the right skills, attitude and experiences, opportunity surfaces, regardless of gender.

Frustrated that she didn’t get the promotion while a peer with her same level of experience did, Jennifer, a mid-level manager at a technology company, started demanding answers.

“Why did he (the manager responsible for granting promotions) deny your request to promote me?” she asked her direct supervisor.

“You just haven’t been with the company long enough,” he said, “Don’t worry—it’ll come.”

Recognizing Jennifer’s male peer had been with the company the same amount of time, she (rightfully, if I might add) leapt to, “This company must be sexist.”

To confirm this reality, she went to Janice, a long-time colleague, who happened to be in one of the most senior positions within the company, and asked, “Is this company sexist?”

Considering her senior leadership position within the company, Janice opted to forgo answering Jennifer’s question in the moment and went in search of her own answers.

Curious, Janice asked the gentleman responsible for the final decision of Jennifer’s promotion—and a long-term colleague, “Why didn’t Jennifer get the promotion?”

“There is no way I’m going to promote someone who consistently misses the deadlines she sets,” he responded.

“I mean… look at this,” he said, as he pointed to various specific projects she had failed to complete within the timeframe given. “If she can’t get her own projects in on time, I’m not going to put her in charge of others,” he said flatly.

This rationale made perfect sense to Janice, but that’s not what Jennifer’s direct supervisor said. He said it was because she hadn’t been with the company long enough, which wasn’t the truth.

But, it was probably easier to say then, “The reason you’re not getting your promotion is because you over-promise and under-deliver, consistently. Let’s find a way to get this turned around so you can get your promotion next time.”

Whether or not we like it, some people are terrible at giving honest feedback. As a result, we jump to conclusions and then look for evidence to back up our case.

Perhaps a better strategy is to first make sure we fully understand the truth of why we’re not getting that promotion.

Is there someone within your company who can help you see what you could do better, more efficiently or effectively, that would net you the chance at a promotion? Is there someone you trust to provide honest feedback? Are you open to receiving honest feedback?

In the process of looking for sexism, we may miss out on the opportunity to strengthen critical relationships, advance our skillsets and pave the way to do the work we really want to do.

By focusing on strengthening our confidence, advancing our skills, and fostering collaboration and growth in others, we will find that opportunities spring up.

And, yes, there are sexist people out there who, perhaps without even realizing they’re a jerk, continuously pick the person whose gender and mannerisms put them at ease rather then pick the best person for the job.

However, focusing on them doesn’t help you make your mark. Developing yourself does.

Here’s to your greatness,

Misti Burmeister

P.S. Ready for the honest-to-goodness truth about why you’re getting the results you’re getting, along with practical steps for getting even better results? Grab your Gearing for Greatness session today and gain the kind of clarity needed to recharge your energy.