More than three-quarters of CEOs say gender equality is in their top ten business priorities. Gender diverse companies are 15 percent more likely to outperform the national median financially. Yet the unfortunate truth persists: corporate America has stalled in progress on gender diversity.
At the recent World Economic Forum in Davos, Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund, Christine Lagarde said the pace of gender parity worldwide had been glacial in progress.
“We have been talking about it for as long as I can remember,” she said, adding that according to World Economic Forum research, it would take 170 years for the economic gender gap to close worldwide.
You might think that the US would be ahead of the international curve, however, with the rate of progress stalling in the wake of the financial crisis, the gender gap in North America is expected to close in 158 years.
Why is progress at a stand-still?
A recent study conducted by LeanIn.Org and McKinsey collated data from more than 130 companies and over 34,000 men and women in corporate America.
Among its key findings, the report shows that women remain underrepresented at every level in the corporate pipeline.
- Corporate America promotes men at 30 percent higher rates than women during their early career stages, and entry-level women are significantly more likely than men to have spent five or more years in the same role.
- Women negotiate for promotions and raises as often as men but face more pushback when they do. Women also receive informal feedback less frequently than men—despite asking for it as often—and have less access to senior-level sponsors.
- The challenge is even more pronounced for women of color. Compared with white women, women of color face the most barriers and experience the steepest drop-offs with seniority despite having higher aspirations for becoming a top executive. Women of color also report they get less access to opportunities and see a workplace that is less fair and inclusive.
In a podcast on the report, McKinsey senior partner Eric Kutcher said we are blaming the wrong things for the lack of female advancement.
“Everyone assumes the reason women are not moving into the C-suite or moving into the more senior ranks of organizations is really simple: that women have children, and that they leave the workforce. And the answer is that’s definitively not what’s going on. That is not the cause of this,” he said.
“In fact, women are more likely to stay in their jobs, and they’re more likely to stay with their organizations than men are. The attrition, the number of women that are leaving, is actually lower than men.”
So what’s standing in the way?
The researchers at McKinsey found that very few women are in line to become CEO.
By the time they reach the SVP level, women hold just 20% of line roles, and line roles lead more directly to the C-suite. In 2015, 90% of new CEOs in the S&P 500 were promoted or hired from line roles.
“What you see is women disproportionately end up in those staff roles that don’t lead to the C-suite,” said Kutcher. “So we’re never going to get there if we don’t address that.”
On top of this, women are less interested in becoming top executives—and see the pros and cons of senior leadership differently
Women are also almost three times more likely than men to think their gender will make it harder to get a raise, promotion, or chance to get ahead.
Only 40% of women are interested in becoming top executives, compared to 56% of men. Women and men worry equally about work-life balance and company politics. However, women with and without children are more likely to say they don’t want the pressure, and women who want a top job anticipate a steeper path than men who do.
A commitment to gender diversity at all levels of a company is imperative to create the change. The report shows that companies that built gender diversity successfully at the leadership level were twice as likely to place gender diversity among the top three priorities on their strategic agenda, to have strong support from the CEO and management, and to integrate gender diversity at all levels of the organization.
LeanIn.org and McKinsey established the following conclusions:
(1) Make a compelling case for gender diversity.
(2) Ensure that hiring, promotions, and reviews are fair.
(3) Invest in more employee training.
(4) Focus on accountability and results.
“We believe it will take government and business-led interventions to create an environment that offers women better opportunities; enables them to train for and work in skilled, better-paying roles; reshapes social norms and attitudes; and supports work–life balance.
“To achieve this, companies will need to transform themselves by reevaluating their traditional performance models and by challenging the long-term viability of their prevailing leadership styles.”