Wiltonian helps women get ahead in the workplace

After being passed over for a promotion early in her business career, Wiltonian Bonnie Marcus became determined to make sure the same thing didn’t happen to other women.
“I felt really betrayed. I had worked for the company for about eight years and I realized afterward that there were lessons to learn for why I didn’t get the promotion — I didn’t understand how the decision was going to be made and who had the power and influence,” said Marcus.
“In other words, I wasn’t politically savvy. I was focusing mostly on my work and I was a top performer, but I didn’t realize that it takes more than talent and hard work to get ahead.”
With an extensive business background, Marcus became a certified executive coach in 2006 and is now the founder and president of Women’s Success Coaching.
After sharing her experiences at workshops and hearing from women who had been through similar situations, Marcus decided to write a book — The Politics of Promotion: How High-Achieving Women Get Ahead and Stay Ahead.
If women are to assume more leadership roles, said Marcus, it’s important for them to understand workplace politics.
“Women’s avoidance of workplace politics, their total focus on their work and thinking that they will get ahead, is something that needed to be addressed,” said Marcus.
“The book is to help more women move up, with the understanding that it takes both hard work and political savvy so they don’t get blindsided like I did.”
Marcus said it took her about a year to write the 256-page book, which was published by Jossey-Bass on March 23.
“I would recommend the book to anyone who is ambitious and wants to move their career forward,” she said.
“It offers a very clear road map on how to navigate the realities of your organization and how to position yourself to get ahead.”

Workplace politics

“Every workplace is different but politics are everywhere,” she said, “and they can affect either gender.”
Marcus said she wrote the book for women because they face “special challenges in the workplace that men don’t face,” such as unconscious gender bias and gender stereotypes.
“Many men and women believe that leaders should be men and if they had a choice, they would chose a man as a boss,” said Marcus.
“Many organizations are still run by men and there’s typically a small inner circle of men who have power and influence. Women need to understand how to penetrate that.”
Marcus said there are “gendered roles in a lot of organizations,” where women are channeled into more supportive roles while men have more visible leadership roles.
“Those are some of the dynamics that affect women, and if they’re unaware of them, they can be blindsided,” she said.
According to Marcus, other factors that hold women back from “embracing their ambition and moving forward” include a “hesitancy to promote themselves” and “their lack of a network that supports their career advancement.”
“Women have a tendency to leverage relationships and do a lot for others but not ask for anything in return,” said Marcus.
“Leveraging the quid pro quo is something that men do very well and women don’t take advantage of — we leave so much power on the table because we don’t take advantage of some of the strong relationships.”
In her book, Marcus provides readers with a “toolkit” for successfully navigating the realities of their organization, consisting of a mirror, magnifying glass, Pass Go and Collect $200 Card, Get Out of Jail Free Card, and GPS.


Marcus said the mirror is for women to “focus and self-reflect on what their unique value proposition is.
“Women are often more focused on what everybody else is doing and we don’t take time to figure out what we bring to the table,” said Marcus.
“That’s important, because authentic self-promotion is very important to get the visibility and credibility you need.”

Magnifying glass

Marcus said the magnifying glass is to help women focus on “what the reality is in their organization” and find the answers to the following questions:

  • Who are the people in senior leadership roles?

  • What does it take for a woman to get ahead?

  • What are some of the rules, including unwritten rules?

  • Who has the power and influence in the organization?

  • What is the culture?

  • What kind of behavior is rewarded and what kind of behavior is not?

“Looking at all of that gives you so much information about what it’s going to take for you to move your career forward and how to position yourself well to do that,” said Marcus.

Pass Go, Collect $200

In Politics of Promotion, the Pass Go and Collect $200 Card is a “metaphor for strategic networking,” said Marcus.
“When you get the card in Monopoly, you get to move around the board faster and collect money,” she said.
“When you have a group of people who are willing and able to speak for you, that’s going to help you do both — move around and advance faster and get a higher salary.”

Get Out of Jail Free

The Get Out of Jail Free Card is a metaphor for sponsorship, which can “pull you up through an organization,” she said. Sponsors can provide protection from workplace politics, making the Get Out of Jail Free Card a “very powerful tool in the toolkit.”
“Women who have sponsors definitely get promoted faster,” said Marcus. “They recognize that you have leadership potential and will clear the way for you to get to the top.”


The GPS is a really good coach or mentor, said Marcus — “somebody who can help you figure our how to work the tools in the toolkit to your advantage.”
Not only does a GPS “hold you accountable for the goals you say you want to achieve,” said Marcus, but it also acts as a mirror “to help you deal with some of the external and internal barriers you have.”
Click here for more information on the book.