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Poor Progress for Women in the Workplace

Poor Progress for Women in the Workplace

McKinsey and LeanIn.org’s Women in the Workplace 2018 Study was just released, showing that women’s progress in holding a more equitable proportion of company roles remains very slow.

The cumulative average growth rates show progress from 2015-18 by level. While it is encouraging that there has been an uptick in the C-suite, many of the other areas remain fairly-to-entirely flat in their improvement over time.

Entry level has improved to almost parity, which is great news for the long-term if the barriers that keep women from moving forward are removed. However, the stall-out at the Manager and Senior VP levels are particularly worrisome, as those are the backfill roles to critical management positions ahead of them.

Without bolstering those numbers, we have no chance of improving the Sr Manager, Director, VP, and C-suite numbers. And the overall trend line from entry level to C-suite remains steeply negative.

One of the key findings in this year’s study is that women are less likely to be hired into manager-level jobs AND are far less likely to be promoted into them. Hence the pressing need to continue to work on internal structures, both operational and cultural, to make sure women get more at-bats and a fair shake at moving forward.

When they don’t have this chance and leave their companies, they are often forced to take lateral moves, and then the problem gets perpetuated elsewhere and they risk stalling out or greatly slowing their career progress overall.

There is a scarcity myth that is important to recognize and dispel related to all of this. Some hypothesize that there aren’t enough qualified women candidates to fill the pipeline, and that is what creates this problem. This is simply untrue.

[Related: Can We Count You In?]

Women are graduating with bachelor’s degrees at a higher rate than men, and are investing in higher education and new skill development. In spite of this, women are questioned about their competence and judgement in their areas of expertise at a much higher rate than men.

This is true for over 60% of women in the workplace. These micro-aggressions add up significantly in their impact. “Women who experience micro-aggressions are three times more likely to regularly think about leaving their jobs than women who don’t.” That is a huge cost to the woman and to the company.

It is also important to note that very few men and women plan to leave the workforce to focus on family. There is no wave of opting-out due to maternity leave or raising a family driving gender inequity across levels. Creating more fair and balanced parental leave policies is extremely important, especially to destigmatize parental leave as being a woman-specific need and something that hinders her job performance and potential.

[Related: What's Good For Women in the Workplace Is Good For Everyone]

Mothers and fathers both need this support, and women in particular place a high value on strong policies and return to work flexibility when job searching. Great policies in this area go a long way in getting talented women to stay at a company as long as they are given the opportunity and support to continue to grow.

Risk of fatigue around gender equity work is real because progress is slow. It is going to take a long time for measurable change to happen at a macro level because this is transformational change. It takes pushing back and reworking operations and cultures that have been in place for many, many years.

This is hard and uncomfortable work. There is a risk of people feeling defensive and checking out. Leaders need to inspire their organizations to continue to push forward and to track progress against big and small wins to keep the momentum going.

Using these numbers as a framework for individual company performance by level is a great starting point for creating a scorecard, setting goals to make improvements, and reporting out on progress. Creating visibility and accountability are key ways to move forward.

[Related: 12 Reasons I’m Hopeful About Women at Work]

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Throughout her twenty-five-year career, Michelle Bogan has mentored colleagues and clients, founded and led women's groups, and helped promote many women and men to leadership positions. In 2018, she founded Equity for Women to advance the mission of empowering women at work.


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