More companies are committing to gender equality. But progress will remain slow unless we confront blind spots on diversity—particularly regarding women of color, and employee perceptions of the status quo.
Women remain underrepresented at every level in corporate America, despite earning more college degrees than men for 30 years and counting. There is a pressing need to do more, and most organizations realize this: company commitment to gender diversity is at an all-time high for the third year in a row.
Despite this commitment, progress continues to be too slow—and may even be stalling. Women in the Workplace 2017, a study conducted by LeanIn.Org and McKinsey, looks more deeply at why, drawing on data from 222 companies employing more than 12 million people, as well as on a survey of over 70,000 employees and a series of qualitative interviews. One of the most powerful reasons for the lack of progress is a simple one: we have blind spots when it comes to diversity, and we can’t solve problems that we don’t see or understand clearly.
Many employees think women are well represented in leadership when they see only a few. And because they’ve become comfortable with the status quo, they don’t feel any urgency for change. Further, many men don’t fully grasp the barriers that hold women back at work. As a result, they are less committed to gender diversity, and we can’t get there without them.
Many companies also overlook the realities of women of color, who face the greatest obstacles and receive the least support. When companies take a one-size-fits-all approach to advancing women, women of color end up underserved and left behind. This year we take a deeper look at women of color to better understand the distinct challenges they face, shaped by the intersection of gender and race.
This article presents highlights from the full report and suggests a few core actions that could kick-start progress.
Taking a closer look at the corporate pipeline
As in years past, we examined the corporate pipeline, starting from entry-level professional positions and leading all the way to the C-suite. Two themes emerge this year:
Inequality starts at the very first promotion. This is even more dramatic for women of color. Women remain significantly underrepresented in the corporate pipeline (Exhibit 1). From the outset, fewer women than men are hired at the entry level, despite women being 57 percent of recent college graduates. At every subsequent step, the representation of women further declines, and women of color face an even steeper drop-off at senior levels. As a result, one in five C-suite leaders is a woman, and fewer than one in 30 is a woman of color. Moreover, compared with the modest gains women made in prior years, there are signs this year that women’s progress may be stalling.