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ARTICLE: Women in the Workplace 2018

Updated: May 1, 2020


McKinsey & Company has partnered with LeanIn.Org for the past 4 years to conduct its ongoing study Women in the Workplace 2018. Their research probes the issues found in data drawn from 462 companies employing more than 19.6 million people, as well as from a survey of over 64,000 employees and a series of interviews. The vast majority of companies say that they’re highly committed to gender and racial diversity—yet that commitment has not translated into meaningful progress. The proportion of women at every level in corporate America has hardly changed over the past four years.

Women are doing their part. For more than 30 years, they’ve been earning more bachelor’s degrees than men. They’re asking for promotions and negotiating salaries at the same rates as men, and they are staying in the workforce at the same rate as men.

The need for companies to take more decisive action starts with treating gender diversity like the business priority it is by setting goals and holding leaders accountable for results. It requires closing gender gaps in hiring and promotions, especially early in the pipeline when women are most often overlooked. And it means taking bolder steps to create a respectful and inclusive culture so that women—and all employees—feel safe and supported at work.

Many factors contribute to a lack of gender diversity in the workplace—including everyday discrimination, sexual harassment, and the experience of being the only woman in the room.

  • Everyday sexism and racism can take many forms. Whether intentional or unintentional, these microaggressions signal disrespect and inequality—while anyone can be on the receiving end of disrespectful behavior, microaggressions are directed at people with less power—women, people of color, and LGBTQ people.

  • 1 in 5 women say they are often the only woman or one of the only women in the room at work. Being the "only" is twice as common for senior-level women and women in technical roles, and they have a significantly worse experience than women who work with other women. More than 80% are on the receiving end of microaggressions and are more likely to have their abilities challenged, to be subjected to unprofessional and demeaning remarks, and to have been sexually harassed at some point in their careers.

There are six actions companies need to take to make progress on gender diversity. Without action on these fronts, the numbers will not move:

  • Get the basics right—targets, reporting, and accountability.

  • Ensure that hiring and promotions are fair.

  • Make senior leaders and managers champions of diversity.

  • Foster an inclusive and respectful culture.

  • Make the Only experience rare.

  • Offer employees the flexibility to fit work into their lives.

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