Women in the Workplace: New Research by McKinsey and LeanIn.Org

Each year, McKinsey, in partnership with LeanIn.Org, conducts the largest study of women in corporate America. This is the seventh year of this research, which involved 423 participating organizations employing twelve million people. Sixty-five thousand people participated in this year’s survey on their workplace experiences, and in-depth interviews were also conducted with women of diversew identities. The study covers a broad range of topics including the intersectional experiences of different groups relating to representation, promotions, COVID-19 burnout and stress, leadership recognition, microaggressions, the allyship gap, and “only” dynamics. The report also offers recommendations to organizations for change.

The top finding from this year’s research is that burnout is higher for women. The authors report that women in corporate America in 2021 are even more burned out than they were last year “after a year and a half into the COVID-19 pandemic—and increasingly more so than men.” One in three women report they have considered downshifting their career or leaving the workforce this year compared to one in four last year, a few months into the pandemic.

Other findings from this year’s research include the following:

  • Women’s representation in senior leadership has increased despite the added stress and exhaustion. The authors report that women have stepped up as stronger leaders. “Compared with men at the same level, women are doing more to support their teams and advance diversity, equity and inclusion [DEI] efforts. They are also more likely to be allies to women of color.”
  • There is a lack of recognition for women leaders who support their teams and advance DEI efforts during the pandemic. Their extra efforts go largely unrecognized and unrewarded.
  • Microaggressions persist. Women of color face the same types and frequencies of microaggressions as they did before the pandemic. They are far more likely than white women to experience disrespectful or “othering” behavior from coworkers. Women and others with traditionally marginalized identities who regularly experience microaggressions are twice as likely to burn out as those who don’t.
  • White people are still not allies. Even though white people in the study report themselves to be allies to women of color, the study authors report that white people “are no more likely than last year to speak out against discrimination, mentor or sponsor a women of color,” or to advocate for them in other ways.
  • There is a “broken rung” in the promotion pipeline. The study authors note that the first step up to manager has been “broken” since they started tracking trends in 2016. Specifically, “women are promoted to manager at far lower rates than men.” For every one hundred men promoted to manager for the first time, only eighty-six women are promoted. This explains why representation of women at senior levels has improved more slowly than women’s overall representation: the number of women eligible for promotion to senior levels becomes more and more narrow as women move up.
  • While women have made some gains overall, women of color have lost ground to white women and to men of color at every step in the pipeline and are severely underrepresented at the top. “Between entry level and the C-suite, the representation of women of color drops off by more than 75 percent. As a result, women of color account for only 4 percent of C-suite leaders.”
  • Being an “only” takes a toll. The experience of being an “only,” or often being the only people of their race or gender in the room at work, is difficult and takes a toll. The authors note that “onlies” stand out and are often heavily scrutinized, their work put under a microscope. “Double onlies,” or women of color who may be the only woman and the only person of color in the room, face more bias, discrimination, and pressure to perform, which can result in faster burnout.
  • Mothers of young children are often another type of “only” when they are the only member of a team with a young child. Mothers face more barriers and biases than fathers in the workplace.

The study also offers some of the following recommendations for change that companies, managers, and employees can make:

  1. Invest deeply in DEI to create a culture that fully leverages the benefits of diversity.
  2. Put practices into place that ensure promotions are equitable.
  3. Reduce bias in hiring and performance reviews.
  4. Track representation, hiring, and promotions and break out metrics for women of color instead of lumping all women together.
  5. Hold senior leaders accountable for progress on diversity goals and factor diversity metrics into performance reviews with material consequences for poor performance.
  6. Reward managers for investing in employee well-being to prevent employee burnout.
  7. Raise DEI awareness for all employees.
  8. Provide training on bias, antiracism, and allyship.
  9. Include valuing diversity in the company’s values.

With these steps, we can make the workplace a better place for everyone.


Photo by Christina @ wocintechchat.com on Unsplash


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