The latest survey from McKinsey and LeanIn.org shows that the representation issue is all about how you see the problem. Men still don’t expect to see women in leadership roles, are not seeing the barriers to progress and missing an opportunity to change the game by stepping up to mentor.
The extensive study had a number of findings:
• While the levels of representation are increasing in senior roles, at all levels women are under-represented, with the gap widening at each level. Women make up 21% of roles at C-suite level, compared to 48% of entry level roles.
• Women continue to be hired and promoted at lower rates than men.
• Many companies are not acknowledging how early this divergence starts, even though the first management level shows significant representation disparity.
• Representation deficits are compounded for women of colour, or those with disabilities.
• Changes such as flexible working and leave policies are starting to make an impact, but uptake is slow.
• Opportunity and fairness are the strongest predictors of employee satisfaction. Accountability and a safe working environment are key for retaining staff.
City Hive view
This study is a large one, but it is also focusing on the US workplace, which has cultural differences to the UK that give us different contextual factors. However, the fact is that men are not used to seeing lots of women in senior roles, and their expectations for what is normal or good are set accordingly.
The data showed that almost half of men (44%) believed that women would be well represented at their company if one is ten of the senior management were women. This is what they are used to seeing. Some 54% of women surveyed thought one in three was a fairer representation.
But there is still work needed to reach those figures and the study is welcome for recognising that action needs to start at the lower rungs of the organisation. Men and women disagree on the root causes of the problem, with one fifth of men convinced that the main barrier is insufficient women – sufficiently qualified – to take on senior roles. Research has been clear to debunk myths about progression such as ‘women are not asking’ for promotions and raises– they are, and they are being turned down.
It’s a well-trodden debate, with women having countered for a long time that they believe they are judged differently (40% of those surveyed here), they face more barriers to getting promoted and lack internal support systems such as sponsors to challenge it (32%). An early setback means a stalled career (raising more questions about why you haven’t progressed), and lower salaries (a weakness in negotiations).
One of the most commonly cited solutions is mentoring and sponsorship, which increase visibility, support and challenge individuals and can make a real difference to progression. Yet there seems to be a reluctance to take up mentoring and sponsorship roles – that in fact women (who are scarce in number and occupied with having to meet more stringent standards anyway) should be picking up this slack. There is likely to be several contributing factors – the positioning of women’s progression as a ‘diversity’ issue can mean men tune out or think that it has to be women who fix it. Plus, there are some concerns over the #metoo movement, which is more pronounced in America, and manifests with men unwilling to spend quality time with female colleagues – examples have ranged from office doors being left open that prevent effective management and feedback sessions, or the ability to share information and build trust.
That’s a real shame particularly considering the findings that safety and respect in the workplace do so much for workplace satisfaction – and therefore to retention of the best staff. Importantly, the study focuses on ways that companies can tackle these issues from a practical standpoint (policies and process) but also thinking about the type or workplace they are creating – culture. The finding that everyone wants opportunity and fairness is not surprising. What is surprising is that more companies don’t capitalise on these highly motivating factors. Everyone benefits when they have equal access to opportunity, and everyone benefits when there are supportive conditions on the workplace.
The survey covered 65,800 at 329 companies