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Women In the Workplace 2016: Roadblocks to the C-suite

Women In the Workplace 2016: Roadblocks to the C-suite

If you’re wondering how women are faring overall when it comes to leadership and gender equality in corporate America, the recently released Women In the Workplace 2016 report makes it clear – the answer is not very well.

The report is the culmination of research conducted by McKinsey & Company, in partnership with LeanIn.Org, and incorporates: employee pipeline data and HR statistics from 132 companies employing more than 4.6 million workers; as well as surveys of 34,000 employees on job satisfaction, work-life balance and attitudes on gender – all to assess the progress women have made in the workplace to date.

[Related: From 'Having it All' to 'Having a Choice']

Last year’s Women In the Workplace 2015 report projected that women were 100 years away from achieving equality in the C-suite. The results from this year’s report indicate that we’re not much closer.

Key Findings:

The study found that women are still woefully underrepresented in the pipelines leading to the upper echelons of corporate America. According to the Women In the Workplace 2016 report, this dearth of women at the top is due to:

  • Missing out on promotions into the ranks of management in the crucial early stages of a career.
  • A pattern of losing ground with each career step forward as opposed to male counterparts who are steadily ascending the corporate ladder.
  • A tendency for women who do make it into upper-level management to get re-routed from line positions – the path to the C-suites – into staff-level positions.
The report points out five issues at the heart of the roadblocks:

1) Women are less likely to get feedback. Direct feedback is critical in order to take the steps needed to improve and advance. According to the survey, however, men were more likely than women to say that their manager gave them difficult feedback that improved their performance. The survey found that managers were hesitant to give difficult feedback to women – concerned about triggering an emotional response.

[Related: The Purpose and Power of Positive Feedback]

2) Women are less likely to have access to senior level management. In the study, women reported fewer “substantive interactions” overall with senior leadership. Those who had made it to the higher levels of management reported having less regular contact with a company leader than their male counterparts.

3) Women are less likely to be offered opportunities that can accelerate their careers. According to the research, men were found to be more likely than women to have a senior leader, outside of their management chain, as a mentor or sponsor who helped them land promotions or challenging new assignments. The study cited professional networks as one probable reason – reporting that women were three times more likely to have a network that was mostly female. The survey found that, since men generally held more of the senior-level positions, women were less likely to have access to the people with the clout to open doors.

4) Women aren’t seeing themselves in the upper ranks. The research found that only one in five senior executives is a woman. As a result, women respondents said they believed their gender was likely to hinder them from getting a raise, or a promotion – especially women of color. The research found that women of color were the most underrepresented group in the corporate pipeline.

5) Women are penalized for negotiating. According to the study, women who negotiated were more likely than men to receive feedback that they were “intimidating”, “too aggressive” or “bossy” – adding to the uphill battle to the C-suites.

The positive news coming out of the Women In the Workplace 2016 report is that, contrary to a belief that women don’t advocate for themselves, women are stepping up to negotiate for raises and promotions as often as their male peers, and, despite pushback, those who ask are more likely to receive.

In a recent Wall Street Journal article on the Women In the Workplace 2016 report, LeanIn.Org founder, Sheryl Sandberg, urged corporate leaders to set more specific goals for achieving gender diversity. She also encouraged women to keep negotiating to move their careers forward. “More women are leaning in,” Sandberg says, “and we’ll all go farther when the workplace stops pushing back.”

This article previously appeared on CarolineDowdHiggins.com.

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Caroline Dowd-Higgins authored the book "This Is Not the Career I Ordered" now in the 2nd edition, and maintains the career reinvention blog of the same name. She is Executive Director of Career & Professional Development at the Indiana University Alumni Association and contributes to Huffington Post,, Ellevate Network, and The Chronicle newspaper in Indiana. She hosts and produces an online show called:Thrive! about career & life empowerment for women on YouTube. Caroline also hosts the international podcast series Your Working Life- on iTunes. Follow her on Facebook, LinkedIn, Google+, and Twitter.


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