Gender Equality - Realizing How Far We Have to Go

Author: LeanIn.Org
Published: Tuesday 10th October 2017
Summary: Largest study of women in the workplace reveals we do not fully see the barriers women face, and we have a low bar for what equality looks like.

Getting to Gender Equality Starts with Realizing How Far We Have to Go - Largest study of women in the workplace shows we're not making progress and points to critical blind spots: we don't fully see the barriers women face, and we have a low bar for what equality looks like...

McKinsey & Company and LeanIn.Org released Women in the Workplace 2017, a comprehensive annual report on the state of women in corporate America. This year's study shows women's progress is slow--and may even be stalling--in part because many employees and companies fail to understand the magnitude of the problem. It also recommends a series of actions that companies can take to make more progress and points to the practices of top-performing companies.

Drawing on pipeline data from 222 companies employing more than 12 million people, the 2017 report shows that women remain significantly underrepresented at every level in corporate America--and women of color face an even more dramatic drop-off at senior levels. Only one in five C-suite leaders is a woman, and fewer than one in thirty is a woman of color. This disparity is not due to company-level attrition or lack of interest: women and men stay at their companies and ask for promotions at similar rates.

Company commitment to gender diversity is at an all-time high for the third year in a row, but this commitment isn't changing the numbers. The report points to a simple reason: we have blind spots when it comes to diversity, and we can't solve problems that we don't see or understand clearly.

Many employees think women are well represented in leadership when they see only a few. Nearly 50 percent of men think women are well represented in leadership in companies where only one in ten senior leaders is a woman. And remarkably, a third of women agree. It is hard to imagine a groundswell of change when many employees don't see anything wrong with the status quo.

"We can't unlock the full potential of the workplace until we see how far from equality we really are," said Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook COO and founder of LeanIn.Org. "We need to resist the temptation to settle for the status quo and do more to build diverse teams and inclusive workplaces. This is not just about fairness, but also about building more prosperous companies and a strong economy for us all."

Many men don't fully grasp the state of women in the workplace. More than 60 percent of men say that their company is doing what it takes to improve gender diversity, while only 49 percent of women agree. Fifty percent of men say managers consider a diverse lineup of candidates to fill open positions, compared to just 35 percent of women. Further, men are less personally committed to gender diversity, and some even worry that diversity efforts disadvantage them.

Many companies also overlook the realities of women of color. Women of color face more obstacles and a steeper path to leadership, from receiving less support from managers to getting promoted more slowly. This negatively affects how they view the workplace and their opportunities for advancement--and is particularly acute for Black women.

"There is a clear business benefit when senior leaders publicly invest in and commit to workforce equality," said Dominic Barton, global managing director of McKinsey & Company. "This research helps us identify the actions companies can take to build greater momentum and accelerate change."

The report identifies concrete actions that companies can take to level the playing field, from making a strong business case for gender diversity to tracking gender metrics, sharing them broadly with employees, and setting targets. This year's findings also point to the importance of giving managers more visibility into the scope of the problem and the tools they need to be part of the solution. Managers often determine how widely policies and programs are adopted and make many of the day-to-day decisions that impact women's careers. Moreover, when managers are committed to gender diversity, employees are more likely to be committed themselves.

It is also critical that companies address the distinct barriers women of color face and get sufficient buy-in from men. The report speaks to strategies for doing both.

The complete Women in the Workplace 2017 report, including detailed findings and recommendations for change, is available at From the website, organizations can download the report and sign up to participate in this ongoing research.

Key Findings

The bar for gender equality is too low.

Nearly 50 percent of men think women are well represented in leadership in companies where only one in ten senior leaders is a woman. A much smaller but still significant number of women agree: a third think women are well represented when they see one in ten in leadership.

Women hit the glass ceiling early.

At the first critical step-up to manager, women are 18 percent less likely to be promoted than their male peers. This gender disparity has a dramatic effect on the representation of women: if entry-level women were promoted at the same rate as their male peers, the number of women at the senior vice president and C-suite levels would more than double.

Men are more likely to say they get what they want without having to ask.

Women of all races and ethnicities negotiate for raises and promotions at comparable rates to their male counterparts. However, men are more likely to say they have not asked for a raise because they are already well compensated or a promotion because they are already in the right role.

Women get less of the support that advances careers.

Women are less likely to receive advice from managers and senior leaders on how to advance, and employees who do are more likely to say they've been promoted in the last two years. Similarly, women are less likely to interact regularly with senior leaders, yet employees who do are more likely to aspire to be top executives.

Women are less optimistic they can reach the top.

Women are less likely than men to aspire to be a top executive, and those who do are significantly less likely than men to think they'll become one. However, when you look at ambition by race and ethnicity, both women and men of color are more interested in becoming a top executive than white women and men.

Men are less committed to gender diversity efforts.

Men are less likely to say gender diversity is a top personal priority and point to concern over de-emphasizing individual performance as the primary reason. Some men even feel that gender diversity efforts disadvantage them: 15 percent of men think their gender will make it harder for them to advance.

Many women still work a double shift.

On average, 54 percent of women do all or most of the household work, compared to 22 percent of men. This gap grows when couples have children. Women with a partner and children are 5.5 times more likely than their male counterparts to do all or most of the household work. And even when women are primary breadwinners, they do more work at home.

Recommended Solutions

Make a compelling case for gender diversity.

Companies and employees don't see eye to eye on why gender diversity is important. While 90 percent of companies say prioritizing gender diversity leads to better business results, only 42 percent of employees think this is the case--and when employees do, they are more likely to be personally committed to gender diversity.

Invest in more employee training.

Less than 20 percent of employees involved in hiring decisions and performance reviews receive unconscious bias training. When employees understand how bias impacts decision-making, they are empowered to make fairer, more objective decisions.

Give managers the means to drive change.

Managers' actions have a big impact--both on women's career progression and on employee commitment to gender diversity. Yet this is an area where many managers are falling short.

Ensure that hiring, promotions, and reviews are fair.

Most companies are taking steps to reduce bias in recruiting and performance reviews, but few have end-to-end processes in place to ensure fairness. A majority focus on hiring underrepresented groups, but less than a third mandate a diverse slate of candidates. Companies need to review their hiring and review processes to make sure there aren't gaps--as well as set gender targets and track outcomes.

Give employees the flexibility to fit work into their lives.

Less than two-thirds of companies offer maternity leave beyond what's required by law, and about half offer fathers the same benefit. Even fewer organizations run programs that ease employees' transitions to and from extended leave. Yet companies that offer these supports have a higher representation of women.

Focus on accountability and results.

Eighty-five percent of companies track gender representation by level, but far fewer track external hiring and promotions by gender--although both have a significant effect on women's representation. Sharing gender metrics also matters. Top-performing companies are more likely to share a significant amount of gender diversity metrics with all employees, yet only 8 percent of companies do this.

About The Study

The Women in the Workplace 2017 report is part of an ongoing partnership between McKinsey & Company and LeanIn.Org to give organizations the information they need to promote female leadership and foster gender equality. This year 222 companies employing more than 12 million people shared their pipeline data and completed a survey of HR practices. In addition, more than 70,000 employees completed a survey designed to explore their experiences regarding gender, opportunity, career, and work-life issues. Since 2012, more than 350 companies have participated--many for multiple years--and close to 200,000 employees have been surveyed. To the authors' knowledge, this makes Women in the Workplace the largest study of its kind.

Study Authors

LeanIn.Org is an initiative of the Sheryl Sandberg & Dave Goldberg Family Foundation to empower women to achieve their ambitions. LeanIn.Org offers inspiration and support through an online community, free education materials, and Lean In Circles, small groups of peers who meet regularly to learn and grow together. The Lean In community includes over 2 million women and men and 33,000 Lean In Circles in more than 150 countries. The Sheryl Sandberg & Dave Goldberg Family Foundation, which also runs OptionB.Org, is a private operating nonprofit organization under IRS section 501(c)(3).

McKinsey & Company is a global management consulting firm, deeply committed to helping institutions in the private, public, and social sectors achieve lasting success. For more than nine decades, the firm's primary objective has been to serve as our clients' most trusted external advisor. With consultants in more than one hundred offices in sixty countries, across industries and functions, McKinsey & Company brings unparalleled expertise to clients anywhere in the world, working closely with teams at all levels of an organization to shape winning strategies, mobilize for change, build capabilities, and drive successful execution.

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