Let’s face it. In 2022, it’s easy to think the 1970s barriers of workplace feminism—wage gaps, glass ceilings, and high heeled uniforms—are long behind us. We all know women technically CAN be in positions of power just like we all know women technically CAN wear pants. But the surface-level illusion of equality is rarely the same as true equality.
In 2022, the fight for gender equality in the workplace is more important than ever. To craft a progressive workplace that benefits from the greatest minds of all people, business leaders must continue to unlearn and dismantle the ways in which white male-led institutions have been built to keep women and people of color from advancing to positions of power. This becomes particularly clear when we see that for many women, the lip service promise of advancement is no longer enough.
A major obstacle facing equality in the workplace is that more women in leadership roles are leaving their jobs than ever before. McKinsey & Company published the findings of their 2022 Women in the Workplace report which is the largest study of women in corporate America. In 2022, McKinsey & Company surveyed 40,000 employees, including women of color, LGBTQ+ women, and women with disabilities.
There are two immediately recognizable pipeline challenges that keep gender equality a pipe dream for many companies.
The Broken First Rung
Women in the workplace are every bit as ambitious as men. However, the first rung of the ladder to success appears to be broken; for every 100 men who are promoted, only 87 women are promoted. This becomes even clearer in the case of women of color, who are shown to be more ambitious than white women in the workplace and yet face even fewer opportunities for promotion. As a result, men far outnumber women in manager positions and women can simply never catch up.
For women in technical roles, advancement is even more difficult. A Latina manager said:
“ The engineering field is almost all men, and it has been for a long time. When I was at university, there were just five women in a room of sixty men. And when I started working, it was like that too. So it’s a very challenging environment.”
More women leaders are leaving their companies
The gap between women and men leaders is the largest we’ve seen in years. A contributor to this problem is that over the COVID-19 pandemic, women leaders have been leaving their companies in droves. For every woman at the director level who gets promoted, two women directors choose to leave their company.
Now, let’s take a look at the three main reasons why women are leaving their companies.
Women want to advance but face stronger opposition than men.
Women aspiring to senior-level positions in companies often experience microaggressions that undermine their authority and signal it will be difficult for them to advance. For example, women leaders are far more likely than men leaders to express that colleagues have questioned their judgment or implied they weren’t qualified for their jobs. Women are also more likely to report being turned down for promotions due to personal, unchangeable reasons such as their gender or being a parent.
Women leaders are 2x as likely as men leaders to be mistaken for someone more junior.
37% of women leaders have had a coworker get credit for their idea, compared to 27% of men leaders.
Women Leaders are Over-Worked and Under-Recognized
Not only do women face fewer opportunities for promotion, but women leaders are more likely than men at their level to undertake the unpaid labor of fostering employee well-being and creating a workplace full of diversity, equity, and inclusion—work that ultimately promotes better employee satisfaction and productivity. Thus women leaders are stretched thinner than men leaders and have less time to focus on advancing themselves as well as being more likely to burn out faster than men.
Women leaders are 2x as likely as men leaders to spend substantial time on DEI work.
40% of women leaders say their DEI work isn’t acknowledged at all in performance reviews.16
Women Leaders want a better work culture.
Over the last two years, women leaders—especially women under thirty—report that work flexibility and company commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion are among the top 3 most important things they look for when deciding whether to join or stay at a company. As one Black woman VP said:
“I think people have come through the pandemic feeling a bit more empowered. We’ve realized that being in a toxic environment where you’re not happy is just not worth it.”
When you take a look at the facts, the future of equity in business can look pretty bleak. How is anyone who wants to foster a more inclusive environment supposed to make progress in a world of so many barriers?
The bad news: the pandemic helped women realize they need more from work. The good news: the pandemic helped women realize they need more from work.
By acknowledging that remote and hybrid work are changing the game for women, companies can examine three essential facts in order to build a workforce in which women thrive:
Choice is essential
Employees who can choose to work either at home or on-site are less likely to be burnt out than those who face no choice. They are happier in their jobs and less likely to consider leaving their companies. A one-size-fits-all approach to remote and flexible work will not work for all employees.
Remote work options are particularly important to women
Only 1 in 10 women would prefer to work mostly onsite. Flexible work hours allow for women who also have to shoulder the work of homekeeping and/or parenting more ability to manage both office work and home work. Women also report that due to working at home, they experience far fewer microaggressions during the workday, thus making work a less toxic environment. This in turn causes women to feel more motivated, productive, and safe to freely problem-solve.
71% of HR leaders say remote work has helped their organization hire and retain more employees from diverse backgrounds.
Remote work is not a substitute for systemic change
Despite the benefits of remote work, it can have challenges as well. Some women feel as though remote work makes it even harder for them to advance in a company given the adage “out of sight, out of mind.” Managers also may be less likely to take an interest in their wellbeing and careers, while other managers face heightened responsibilities. Plus if women see people of color and women in positions of power in their day to day lives, they ultimately feel like the company is a safer place to work with more opportunities for advancement—a double-edged sword given the privacy of remote work.
Ultimately, all women deserve to work in a space where they can dream big. Only through mindful, continuing attempts to grow a company space in which all women are free to advance, innovate, and explore their own talents and skills can business—and the world—face a brighter future.