What To Do if Your Boss Plays Favorites — And You're Not One Of Them

Photo Credit: © vege / Adobe Stock. Headshot photo by John Abbott

By Bonnie Marcus

READ MORE: Career advice, Workplace, Personality

It’s so unfair! I hear this all the time from clients who work really hard to get ahead and can’t seem to get the attention of their boss because he/she has favorites. It’s a problem for sure, but it’s not unusual. 

Favoritism is part of human nature. We naturally want to work with those individuals that we like and with whom we feel comfortable. Senior executives are not immune to this behavior.

Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business surveyed senior executives at large U.S. corporations and found that 92% have recognized favoritism at play in employee promotions. 84% have seen it at their companies and 23% said they have practiced favoritism themselves. What’s particularly troubling is that 56% said that when considering candidates for promotion, they knew before any deliberations who they wanted to promote and 96% said they promoted the pre-selected individual.  29% said that they only considered one candidate in their most recent promotion.

It certainly is not fair!

My client, Marie, was particularly frustrated that her boss had a clear favorite in her department and it wasn’t her. She works in a financial services firm and the entire team shares an open work space with their boss. Her boss sits next to a young woman and they laugh and share private jokes during the day. There is no question that this person is in favor despite the fact she is not the top performer on the team. This not only seems unfair, but unjustified to Marie. She works really hard, puts in long hours, and has high hopes of advancing her career.

What should you do if you find yourself in a similar situation?

My best advice is to follow these suggestions:

Understand your value proposition and how your work contributes to positive business outcomes. It’s important for you to know how you add value to the organization and how you can potentially help your boss succeed. This helps you build influence and credibility not only with your boss but with the entire organization.

Figure out what’s important to your boss.  What are their goals? Do they currently have initiatives that need support? How are they incentivized? What are their business objectives? If you don’t already have this information, do your homework and ask. Offering to help based on the value you add is a powerful way to strengthen a relationship and supersedes a “favorite” relationship that’s not based on performance. You can vastly improve your relationship this way.

Build a strategic network across the organization. Who are the people who have influence over your career? How are decisions made? Who is in your boss’s circle of influence? You should build relationships with all these people. They need to know how you add value to the business and how you can help the organization move forward.

Find allies and champions. Who can advocate for you in your department and in your company? Look for people who can give you information about the politics, open doors for new opportunities, and provide access to resources that will lead to your improved performance. Find out what they want and need and build mutually beneficial relationships. They will stand up and speak up for you when appropriate.

Create visibility across the organization. Use your value proposition to communicate and demonstrate to others how you can contribute to business objectives. Maybe your recent success on a project has some valuable information that will help others. Perhaps you tried a new methodology that was effective. Sharing this information not only gives you visibility but the credibility you need to establish yourself as a valued contributor.

The bottom line is that it’s your responsibility to nurture a relationship with your boss regardless of their favoritism. Don’t use this as an excuse to become a victim who takes no action. Build your own strong relationship based on your work. Identify all the people who have power and influence over your career and develop relationships across the organization to increase your visibility and credibility.

It may not be a level playing field, but you still have control, so take it!

--

Bonnie Marcus, M.Ed, is an executive coach, author and keynote speaker focused on women's advancement in the workplace. A former corporate executive and CEO, Bonnie is the author of The Politics of Promotion: How High Achieving Women Get Ahead and Stay Ahead, and co-author of Lost Leaders in the Pipeline: Capitalizing on Women's Ambition to Offset the Future Leadership Shortage.

Fairygodboss

Fairygodboss is committed to improving the workplace and lives of women. 
Join us by reviewing your employer!

 

Related Articles
Related Community Discussions
I think I'm being mommy-tracked at work and it's incredibly

I think I'm being mommy-tracked at work and it's incredibly frustrating. I'm two months back from maternity leave and putting in the same hours as I used to but I'm getting these subtle signs that I'm not taken as seriously -- ranging from not being asked about wanting to spearhead things to the stink eye when I walk out the door (at the same time I roughly used to leave the office). What should I do?

What do you feel about women who have to face

What do you feel about women who have to face a step down in their careers after giving time to their newborns and taking a break of at least six months? Did this happen to you too?

What to do if you face a step down in

What to do if you face a step down in your career due to the break you took of 6 months to take care of your newborn? Does this happen frequently? Any ideas on how to get a job after this break? Please help! I was working as a Sales Manager in a company where I had to quit as I needed to give sometime to my baby. Now when I'm trying to start working again, I don't get even considered due to the break I took. The HR in these companies advice me to step down in the position and start from senior sales associate or reception. I do have good experience being good at my job and my previous employer have everything good to say about me. What should I do?

Hi Fairygodbosses! I am writing here on behalf of my

Hi Fairygodbosses! I am writing here on behalf of my mom because I love and want the best for her. She has been working at a non-profit for the last 9 years and has become miserable at work. She wants a career change but doesn't know what she wants to do or how to get there. She is only now making the salary she should be making at 58 years old and I think that holds her back from taking a chance and leaving her company. Do any fairy godbosses here have some advice or resources for a middle-aged woman looking for a career change (and feels like a life change)? How can my mom build her confidence and self-worth to go after what truly makes her happy (or at least start trying to figure it out?) Appreciate any of your thoughts.

What are women saying about your company?

Popular Articles
Related Community Discussions
I think I'm being mommy-tracked at work and it's incredibly

I think I'm being mommy-tracked at work and it's incredibly frustrating. I'm two months back from maternity leave and putting in the same hours as I used to but I'm getting these subtle signs that I'm not taken as seriously -- ranging from not being asked about wanting to spearhead things to the stink eye when I walk out the door (at the same time I roughly used to leave the office). What should I do?

What do you feel about women who have to face

What do you feel about women who have to face a step down in their careers after giving time to their newborns and taking a break of at least six months? Did this happen to you too?

What to do if you face a step down in

What to do if you face a step down in your career due to the break you took of 6 months to take care of your newborn? Does this happen frequently? Any ideas on how to get a job after this break? Please help! I was working as a Sales Manager in a company where I had to quit as I needed to give sometime to my baby. Now when I'm trying to start working again, I don't get even considered due to the break I took. The HR in these companies advice me to step down in the position and start from senior sales associate or reception. I do have good experience being good at my job and my previous employer have everything good to say about me. What should I do?

Hi Fairygodbosses! I am writing here on behalf of my

Hi Fairygodbosses! I am writing here on behalf of my mom because I love and want the best for her. She has been working at a non-profit for the last 9 years and has become miserable at work. She wants a career change but doesn't know what she wants to do or how to get there. She is only now making the salary she should be making at 58 years old and I think that holds her back from taking a chance and leaving her company. Do any fairy godbosses here have some advice or resources for a middle-aged woman looking for a career change (and feels like a life change)? How can my mom build her confidence and self-worth to go after what truly makes her happy (or at least start trying to figure it out?) Appreciate any of your thoughts.