7 Striking Facts About Women in the Workplace


Here’s a kicker: Women’s representation in the corporate world isn’t improving in leaps and bounds. Not even in leaps or bounds. It actually hasn’t improved much at all in the last few years.

At least that’s one of the top-level findings of the 2018 Women in the Workplace report recently released by McKinsey & Company and LeanIn.Org.

“For the last four years, companies have reported that they are highly committed to gender diversity,” it states, looking back at the period since the first in this series of annual studies in 2015. “But that commitment has not translated into meaningful progress.” Ultimately, the standstill hurts not only women who struggle to advance and have painful experiences at work, but also companies’ bottom lines.

This latest Women in the Workplace report analyzed pipeline and HR data from 279 companies in North America that together account for more than 13 million workers. It also considered survey responses from more than 64,000 full-time employees from 81 companies and a few dozen interviews that help bring some of the numbers to life.

To give you a sense of where things stand—without having to read the full 61-page report—we’ve pulled out seven striking facts about the state of women in corporate America.

1. Men Hold 62% of Manager Positions to Women’s 38% (and it Gets Worse Higher Up)

In 2018, women made up 48% of entry-level employees, but only 38% of managers, 34% of senior managers or directors, 29% of VPs, 23% of SVPs, and just 22% of C-suite executives.

For every 100 men promoted to manager-level roles, only 79 women moved up into similar roles. The numbers are even more abysmal for women of color, who make up only 17% of entry-level roles and 4% of C-suite positions.

And it’s not because women are leaving their companies or the workforce; the report also found that these women and men are stepping away from jobs and careers at nearly identical rates.

2. Women Are Less Likely to Have Access to Senior Leaders

The study found that 27% of men “never have a substantive interaction with a senior leader” about their work, but 33% of women—and 41% of black women—say the same. And while 40% of men reported that they “never have an informal interaction with a senior leader,” 49% of women—and 54% of Latina women and 59% of black women—reported the same.

That may not seem like the most profound discrepancy at first glance, but interactions with senior leaders can make a big difference in who stays, who successfully negotiates promotions, and who sets their sights on leadership positions of their own. In other words, fewer interactions can mean fewer opportunities.

3. Women Are Twice as Likely to Be Mistaken for Much More Junior Employees and More Likely to Deal With Discrimination

“I was in the elevator and pressed the button for the executive office,” one Asian woman relayed as part of the study. She was a director who’d been at her company for four years. “Someone said to me, ‘Um, no honey. That’s for the executive offices. The interns are going to this floor.’”

She’s one of 20% of women who’ve been mistaken for someone far more junior. Only 10% of men have had similar experiences. Women are also nearly twice as likely to report needing to provide more evidence of their competence, and are more likely to have their judgement questioned in their area of expertise and to be the targets of demeaning remarks.

In total, 64% of women said they faced microaggressions at work—with an even higher rate (71%) of lesbian women saying the same—compared to about half of men.

These experiences add up. Women who experience these slights are three times more likely to consider quitting on a regular basis.

4. Women Are Far More Likely to Be “Onlys” and Suffer More for it When They Are

About a fifth of women reported that they’re frequently the only woman (or one of the only women) in the groups of people they work with at the office. It’s more like 40% for women in senior leadership and those in technical roles. Just 7% of men are in the reverse situation.

Not only are women much more likely to be outnumbered, but they also tend to have horrible experiences when they are. They’re far more likely to be subjected to microaggressions than women who work with other women, men who work in mixed settings, and men who are outnumbered, in that order.

And then there’s the pressure. “With everyone’s eyes on them, women Onlys can be heavily scrutinized and held to higher standards,” the report says. They often feel as though they represent an entire group, and that if they fail, the entire group will be judged along with them.

5. 35% of Women in Full-Time Corporate Sector Jobs Have Experienced Sexual Harassment

As if that number weren’t appalling enough, an even higher percentage of certain subsets of women reported experiencing sexual harassment during the course of their careers, including 55% of senior-level women, 48% of lesbian women, and 45% of women working in technical fields.

In general, employees don’t report overwhelming confidence in their companies to properly investigate and address sexual harassment claims. But there’s also a gender gap there. While 70% of men think a claim would be fairly investigated and addressed, only 52% of women agree, and while 15% of men believe reporting sexual harassment would be pointless, risky, or uncertain, 30% of women said the same.

6. Women Negotiate for Raises and Promotions as Often as Men Do

And finally, let’s throw some data at the idea that women just don’t negotiate as much as men do. The study suggests that in corporate American in 2018, that’s just plain wrong.

In fact, in the last two years, slightly more women than men reported negotiating. While 29% of men had negotiated for a raise, 31% of women had done the same. And 36% of men negotiated for a promotion compared to 37% of women.

7. Women Are More Likely to See Gender as an Obstacle to Advancement

It’s not just that there are fewer women the higher up you look, or that they’re promoted less frequently than their male peers. Nearly a quarter of women, but only 8% of men, believe that “their gender has played a role in missing out on a raise, promotion, or chance to get ahead.” And 29% of women, compared to only 15% of men, believe their gender will be an obstacle to advancement in the future.

If you dig a little deeper, women are also less likely than men to believe that their workplaces are fair, with black women being the least likely to agree that “the best opportunities go to the most deserving employees” or that promotions are “based on fair and objective criteria.”

The vast majority of companies included in this report say that gender diversity is a priority. But those statements and some of the actions individual organizations have taken aren’t translating into any significant change in the overall numbers.

The report goes on to suggest several strategies companies can use to move the numbers in the right direction. It starts with clearly articulating diversity goals and holding employees formally accountable for reaching them, especially when it comes to those in positions of power who can model behavior for others. It also means implementing fair hiring and promotion practices that correct for biases, actively working to build an inclusive and respectful culture, and offering flexibility for employees as they manage the demands of work and family.

But you don’t have to be a CEO or the head of HR to start making change. If these statistics leave you with a bleak outlook, well, we’re right there with you. But remember that there are small things you can do as a manager or colleague (like these and this) to help push for gender equality at your office, starting today.

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