topSkip to main content

Companies, not just women, must 'lean in,' report says

Diverse women at work

Companies continue to report they are highly committed to gender diversity, but the proportion of women in their organizations is barely budging, according to Women in the Workplace 2018, an annual report on the state of women in corporate America from McKinsey & Co. and LeanIn.Org.  

For this to change, companies must treat gender diversity like the business imperative it is and close gender disparities as early in the pipeline as the first step-up to manager, according to the report, which draws on pipeline data from 279 companies employing 13 million people.

"The business case for diversity is clear. Research shows it leads to better performance, more innovation and stronger economic growth,” said Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook and founder of LeanIn.Org. "Women are leaning in. Companies need to lean in, too."

Women, especially women of color, continue to be vastly underrepresented at every level in corporate America. Only about one in five senior leaders is a woman, and one in 25 is a woman of color.

This disparity continues despite women earning more bachelor's degrees than men, asking for promotions and negotiating salaries at the same rates as men, and staying in the workforce at the same rate as men, according to the report.

To move the needle, companies should focus on hiring and promotions, according to the report. Just 79 women — and for Black women, only 60 — are promoted to manager for every 100 men. Largely because of these gender gaps, men hold 62 percent of manager positions.

If companies continue to hire and promote women to manager at current rates, the number of women in management will increase by a mere 1 percent over the next 10 years, the report reveals. But if companies start hiring and promoting women and men to manager at equal rates, they can nearly close the gender gap in management (to 48 percent women) over those same 10 years.

Gender and race

Women are three times more likely than men to think that their gender has played a role in their missing out on a raise, promotion or other chance to get ahead. Nearly a third of women of color — and almost half of Black women — think their race has played a role in missed opportunities and will make it harder for them to advance. More than a quarter of lesbian women feel the same way about their sexuality.

Women, especially women of color, also report they receive less support from managers than men do — and Black women receive the least support of all.

One in five women reports frequently being the only woman or one of the only women in the room at work, according to the report. This phenomenon is twice as common for senior-level women and women in technical roles — around 40 percent of them are “Onlys.”

“Onlys” face more everyday discrimination, or microaggressions, such as being subjected to demeaning comments or being mistaken for someone much more junior, the report notes. They are twice as likely to have been sexually harassed at some point in their career, and they are significantly more likely to think about leaving their job.

Sexual harassment 

The report reveals that sexual harassment continues to pervade the workplace. Thirty-five percent of women in corporate America experience sexual harassment at some point in their careers. Fifty-five percent of women in senior leadership, 48 percent of lesbian women and 45 percent of women in technical fields report they've been sexually harassed.

While 98 percent of companies have policies that make it clear sexual harassment is not tolerated, many employees think their company is falling short in putting those policies into practice. Just 62 percent of employees say in the past year their company has reaffirmed sexual harassment won't be tolerated; a similar number say that they've received training or guidance on the topic. Only 60 percent of employees think a sexual harassment claim would be fairly investigated and addressed by their company — and just 32 percent believe it would be addressed quickly.

The report recommends six actions companies can take to make progress on gender diversity, including setting goals, tracking and reporting progress and rewarding success; ensuring that hiring and promotions are fair; making senior leaders and managers champions of diversity; creating an inclusive and respectful culture; making the “Only” experience rare; and giving employees the flexibility to fit work into their lives.