She comforts, listens, and supports, but she uses her powers of invisibility to complete her tasks. She moves through the shadows, unseen; this is the superpower of Susan Storm, better known as The Invisible Woman. As one of the Fantastic Four, cult Marvel characters, she spends most of her time trying to keep the team together. Her empathy and pragmatism make her a central member of the famous foursome.
Invisibility, keeping the team together, completing tasks: Remind you of anyone? How about a woman in middle management?
She, too, finds herself in the thick of the action, central in the accountability chain, and, literally, in the middle of the organizational chart. She plays a pivotal role: she implements strategies and decisions that come from above while keeping an eye on productivity and the development of people under her leadership.
A woman in middle management may well find herself at the centre, but she is still too frequently overlooked. How is this possible? Is it a superpower or a curse?
Like the Invisible Woman, the sole representative of her gender on her team, a woman in middle management is outnumbered by her male counterparts. Indeed, even though the situation is slowly improving, in 2020, women held only 38% of management positions in the United States and only 37% in the European Union. This poor representation has repercussions at higher levels, as the pool of women candidates for promotion is dramatically smaller than that of men. With time, the widening gap becomes irreversible… and invisibility persists.
In middle management, women must also deal with the fact that their good work doesn’t translate to being acknowledged but rather to being… forgotten. According to a recent poll, 75% of managers surveyed (women and men) considered that the more time passed, the less their organization cared about them. Their excellence was erasing them from the concerns of their superiors who were (over)occupied elsewhere, confirming something many women notice at this stage in their career: talent and results are not enough to stand out and move up.
What a paradox to go unnoticed because of our courage, diligence, and excellence.
Susan Storm becomes invisible on command because she wants to. This is not the case for the superheroines of management. Feeling see-through against our will, when we successfully bridge the gaping chasm every day, one foot in the practical, the other in the strategic, can become demoralizing.
As we mark the 50th anniversary of Marvel’s famous Invisible Woman, let’s also celebrate the advancement of unwillingly invisible women, these corporate Susan Storms, succeeding under challenging missions and overcoming obstacles while keeping their teams on track.
Middle management, managers of all kinds, and women under pressure, with your concerns, fires to extinguish, glass ceiling, aspirations, and accomplishments, you may feel invisible. Still, at The A Effect, we see you. You are at the heart of our mission: making the invisible visible.