Newsflash: The elephant is still in the room. Women are still not rising up to leadership roles on par with men, and it’s going to have far-reaching consequences for the world of work. McKinsey / LeanIn’s new study Women in the Workplace 2022 shows that when it comes to promotions, women lose out — and the gap widens the higher they go.
The study of 333 organizations and more than 40,000 employees found that women hold:
· 48% of entry level positions
· 40% of management positions
· 36% of senior manager director positions
· 32% of VP positions
· 28% of SVP positions
A Shrinking Pipeline
The further up the ladder, the greater the gap. Since promotions happen incrementally and rising in the ranks to a leadership position is a step by step process, the effect increases. Each phase of a career includes fewer women — which means fewer qualified women to compete for (and fill) leadership roles. The pipeline gets narrower the higher you go. The less candidates, the less likelihood a woman takes the role.
A Broken Rung
The writers of the study use a phrase we’re likely to see a lot, if people are paying attention: the broken rung. McKinsey found that at the all-important first promotion from entry level to manager, the ladder is broken. Only 87 women make it up that far — and only 82 women of color — for every 100 men who do. And that one critical phase is a one key factor: if you can’t climb up, you can’t climb up.
For women of color, it’s even worse. This is a simplification, to be sure, but I want you to imagine the waiting room for manager interviews at Company X. Picture 100 men go through the waiting room, to their interviews, and on to their next promotions. Now picture 18 women of color sitting in those chairs forever, stuck. They have nowhere to go but back to the same wage, the same job, the same dim prospects.
The imbalance never rights itself, which means by the time we’re aiming for a corner office, it’s likely got the feel of a men’s club. For a woman, it really can be lonely at the top, given that nearly three-quarters (74%) of your colleagues are going to be men. For a woman of color, 5% of your colleagues will be women of color. That’s abysmal.
Small, Small Gains
There have been gains — albeit small ones — since 2017, as the study points out. Notably, there are 3% more women managers, 7% more women SVPs, and 6% more women in the C-Suite. But this is still a rampant disproportion, and these are percentages that barely move the needle.
To a woman in the workplace, it’s bound to be discouraging. Given the additional stresses many women have been under over the past few years, it may be that proverbial last straw, because women are leaving.
The study also found that it’s not just women employees leaving companies – something we’ve been seeing since the Great Resignation. This is a troubling subset of talent loss that has left many an HR team shaking their heads, to be sure.
But what the McKinsey / LeanIn study reveals is that women leaders are leaving their companies. Just because they have climbed higher doesn’t mean they’re comfortable up there. In fact they’re uncomfortable: For every one woman at the director level who gets promoted up another level, there are two other women directors who choose to leave the company.
The Great … Something
Further, the Great Resignation – or as many of my colleagues prefer to call it, the Great Reckoning — is still taking a toll. McKinsey and LeanIn are calling it the Great Breakup in this case — as in women employees considering a breakup with employers. But it’s not just about finding a better opportunity with a different employer — which would be better for the overall world of work, to be sure. Women are leaving. They’re reevaluating. They’re cutting back. They’re breaking up with their own careers.
The study found that in the past year, 29% of women have considered reducing their hours, taking an easier job, or leaving the workforce altogether. Certainly less women have actually gone through with it. But it doesn’t bode well for having a vibrant, thriving talent pipeline, or a diverse, inclusive, thriving workforce. By comparison, some 22% of men are also in that boat. But again — we’re talking about less and less women, the further up the ladder we go.
Committing To Transparency
Actually, women aren’t giving up their ambitions, recent studies show. They’re choosing to not work in toxic, dead-end, frustrating positions for companies that don’t commit to their advancement. With recent developments in pay equity and pay history legislation, the fact that women get paid less than men — and women of color get paid even less — is undeniable. It can't just be considered a point of view (though we know it never was). It’s official.
Further, that all-important first phase of a career is where women get short shrift. From the beginning, right at entry level, the deck is stacked, and it’s harder to catch up. Women are still paid a median hourly wage of just 86 cents for every dollar earned by a man. Black women earn only 68 cents.
Closing that pay gap takes transparency, since women are statistically less likely to win when they negotiate for a raise. A new job based on a salary history is essentially just that: a raise from the old one. Eliminating the salary history as a factor should help eliminate that built-in bias.
But as we close out a year of some incredible gains and some astounding losses when it comes to women’s futures and women’s rights, it’s clear there’s still a lot to do. The good news is I think we’re all up for it. Necessity is the mother of invention, as we all know. We need mothers. We need women — and we know it. We need great women leaders not only for their own leadership, but to make space for the new generations to come.