McKinsey published the Women in the Workplace 2022 report, focusing on how the pandemic has changed what women want from their companies, including the growing importance of opportunity, flexibility, employee well-being, and diversity, equity, and inclusion.
Women still dramatically underrepresented in leadership
The biggest obstacle women face on the path to senior leadership is at the first step up to manager. For every 100 men promoted from entry level to manager, only 87 women are promoted, and only 82 women of color are promoted. As a result, men significantly outnumber women at the manager level, and women can never catch up. There are simply too few women to promote into senior leadership positions.
Why are women leaders leaving their companies?
#1 Women leaders want to advance, but they face stronger headwinds than men: Women leaders are as likely as men at their level to want to be promoted and aspire to senior-level roles. In many companies, however, they experience microaggressions that undermine their authority and signal that it will be harder for them to advance. For example, they are far more likely than men leaders to have colleagues question their judgment or imply that they aren’t qualified for their jobs. Women leaders are also more likely to report that personal characteristics, such as their gender or being a parent, have played a role in them being denied or passed over for a raise, promotion, or chance to get ahead.
#2 Women leaders are overworked and under-recognized: Compared to men at their level, women leaders do more to support employee well-being and foster diversity, equity, and inclusion—work that dramatically improves retention and employee satisfaction, but is not formally rewarded in most companies.14 Spending time and energy on work that isn’t recognized could make it harder for women leaders to advance. It also means that women leaders are stretched thinner than men in leadership; not surprisingly, women leaders are far more likely than men at their level to be burned out.
#3 Women leaders want a better work culture: Women leaders are significantly more likely than men leaders to leave their jobs because they want more flexibility or because they want to work for a company that is more committed to employee well-being and diversity, equity, and inclusion. And over the last two years, these factors have only become more meaningful to women leaders.
How companies can equip, incentivize, and reward good managers
#1 Set managers up for success: Although a majority of companies provide general training for managers, far fewer address specifics that are critical to managing teams today, such as how to minimize burnout and ensure promotions are equitable. Research shows that when training focuses on concrete topics like these, it leads to better results.44 Companies could also benefit from stepping back to make sure people managers have the time and resources they need to do their jobs well. Managers have seen their scope of work expand dramatically over the past two years, and, understandably, many are struggling with the added responsibilities.
Having a manager who cares about their well-being really matters to women, it’s one of the top three factors they consider when deciding whether to join or stay with a company
the report highlights.
#2 Hold managers accountable and reward those who excel: While virtually all companies build business goals into managers’ performance reviews, very few do the same for metrics related to people management and DEI. This is an incomplete view of performance, but it’s relatively easy to fix. It’s increasingly common for employees to review their manager’s performance, and prompts to gather more expansive input can be added to employee evaluation forms. Many companies track attrition rates, promotion rates, and other career outcomes and conduct surveys to measure employee satisfaction and well-being; insights from these processes can be built into managers’ performance evaluations.
Road map to gender equality
Based on an analysis of best practices, the report identified three distinct categories of policies and programs for advancing and retaining women:
- Table stakes have been adopted by more than 75 percent of companies— and while important, they’re not driving enough progress on their own.
- Leading practices are less common than table stakes—and more prevalent in companies that have a higher representation of women and women of color.
- Emerging practices are relatively rare—adopted by less than 30 percent of all companies—but show promising early results.
To accelerate progress on gender equality, companies should also consider adopting more leading and emerging practices, and continue to look for opportunities to break new ground.
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