Dear Corporate America: You Are Enforcing The Gender Divide

Dear Corporate America:

You Are Enforcing The Gender Divide

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According to the “Women in The Workplace Study 2016″, by LeanIn.Org and McKinsey & Company, women are less likely to receive the first critical promotion to manager, so far fewer end up on the path to leadership-and are less likely to be hired into senior leadership roles.

Consequently the higher you look in companies, the fewer women you’ll see. The study was comprised of 132 companies employing more than 4.6 million people who shared their pipeline data and completed a survey of HR practices. Additionally, 34,000 employees completed a survey intended to reveal their attitudes on gender, ambition, work-life issues, and job satisfaction.

Getting more women into leadership roles.

McKinsey & Company’s Joanna Barsh reports that women are moving forward, albeit slowly; women won approximately 30 percent of new U.S. board seats in 2015, compared to 19 percent in 2010 and almost six percent of Fortune 500 CEO’s are women. Barsh said: “Give employees more control over their schedules and create flexible work environments and make programs that demonstrate to women in mid-level positions that they can get to the next level so their aspirations stay high.”

Despite modest progress since 2015, women remain underrepresented in the corporate pipeline. At every step, the representation of women declines. Promotion rates of women lag behind those of men, and the disparity is largest at the first step up to manager-for every 100 women promoted, 130 men are promoted. In addition, external hiring is not improving the representation of women. Furthermore, the study found that companies hire fewer women from the outside than men, particularly in senior management, at a rate of nearly two to one.

The distribution of women and men in line roles is abysmal.

At senior levels women shift from line to staff roles, while the percentage of men in line roles remains approximately the same. By the time women reach the senior vice president level, they comprise only a 20 percent share of the roles. It gets worse, in 2015, 90 percent of new CEOs were promoted or hired from line roles, and 100 percent of them were men. Women of color face a steeper climb to the top. Though they make up 20 percent of the U.S. population, women of color hold a mere three percent of C-suite roles, despite having higher aspirations for becoming a top executive than white women.

Compared to white women, women of color also report that they get less access to opportunities and see a workplace that is less fair and inclusive. They are nine percent less likely to say they’ve received a challenging new assignment, 21 percent less likely to think the best opportunities go to the most deserving employees, and 10 percent less likely to feel comfortable being themselves at work. And while 78 percent of companies report gender diversity is a top priority, only 55 percent report that racial diversity is. A greater awareness of the problem and a serious commitment to addressing it is long overdue.

When perception mirrors reality.

Women get less access to the people and opportunities that advance careers and are disadvantaged in many of their daily interactions. They are also less than half as likely as men to say they see a lot of people, like them, in senior management, and they’re right-only 20 percent of senior executives are women.

Not surprisingly, these inequities have taken a toll on women. Compared to men, they are less likely to think that they have equal opportunities for growth and development and more likely to think that their gender will play a role in missing out on a promotion, raise, or some other opportunity for professional advancement.

Women are more likely to face pushback when seeking promotion.

It’s not all bad news: women are negotiating for promotions and pay increases as often as men. And women who lobby for a promotion are 54 percent more likely to report getting one than those who don’t.

But the bad news is that women who negotiate are disproportionately penalized for it. They are 30 percent more likely than men who negotiate to receive feedback that they are intimidating or too aggressive or bossy and 67 percent more likely than women who don’t negotiate to receive the same negative feedback. Ultimately, despite lobbying for promotions at similar rates, women are on average less likely to be promoted than men.

When commitment to gender diversity rings hollow.

Companies are struggling to put their commitment to gender diversity into practice, and many employees do not see it as a serious priority. Seventy-eight percent of companies report that commitment to gender diversity is a top priority for their CEO, up from 56 percent in 2012. But this commitment does not always translate into visible action. Fewer than half of employees think their companies are doing what it takes to improve gender diversity.

Evidently the case for gender diversity is not reaching employees, or they worry they will be disadvantaged by diversity programs that are not fair. However, it’s duly worth noting that if the workplace was inclusive and fair now, the corporate pipeline would more closely mirror the general population.

Steps for companies to take to advance gender diversity.

1-Make a compelling case for gender diversity.

Senior leaders have a crucial role to play, from talking more often and openly about gender diversity to modeling their commitment in their everyday actions. Although 62 percent of senior leaders say that gender diversity is an important personal priority, only 28 percent of employees say senior leaders regularly encourage an open dialogue on the topic.

2- Make hirings, promotions and performance reviews fair.

While 93 percent of companies report that they use clear and consistently applied criteria to evaluate performance, only 57 percent of employees believe that managers do this in practice. As an example, blind resume reviews are a relatively simple way to minimize bias, yet only four percent of companies say they do this.

3-Invest in more employee training.

Employees need to understand what steps they can take to get to equality, yet they clearly need more guidance: only 28 percent of entry-level employees and 51 percent of middle managers say they know what to do to improve gender diversity in the workplace.

4-Accountability and results.

Only 40 percent of companies report that they hold their senior level leaders accountable for performance against gender diversity metrics, and employees are even less likely to see this in practice: only 32 percent of employees report that senior leaders are regularly held accountable, and nine percent report that managers are recognized for progress on gender diversity. Only 44 percent of companies set pipeline targets, and even fewer set targets for external hiring and promotions. Targets matter because it is easier to track and make progress when a company has clear goals in place. 

In summation, companies have a crucial role to play in reaching gender equality, and we will all benefit when they succeed. Ultimately, a more inclusive work environment will lead to more engaged employees, which will lead to stronger, more productive organizations. And that’s the bottom line.

Stephen Doyle

"Steve Doyle, originally from Philadelphia, holds a B.A. Professional Writing from Penn State University. He's a blogger, short-story writer and has created several hundred marketing content pieces for clients such as: JC Ehrlich, Ambius, Henckels & McCoy, DDC Group, Burns Logistics Solutions, Inc., etc. Steve is an award-winning, highly skilled communicator who loves to help get others' stories told in as an engaging manner as possible."

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