It’s no surprise that Women in the Workplace 2017, a report from McKinsey and LeanIn.org., found that women remain underrepresented at every level in corporate America, despite earning more college degrees than men for 30 years and counting. There is definitely a need to do more, and most organizations realize this, which accounts for the fact that company commitment to gender diversity is at an all-time high for the third year in a row.
Women in the Workplace researchers write that, “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 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.”
While the workforce may be waking up to the fact that talented women can contribute at least as much as men in the organization, progress is still slow. In fact, Women in Workplace researchers even speculate that progress has stalled.
Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook COO and author of Lean In, wrote in The Wall Street Journal that despite companies’ growing commitment to gender diversity, “It’s hard to solve a problem we don’t fully see or understand—and when it comes to gender in the workplace, too often we miss the scope and scale of the issue.”
Sandberg concludes that businesses can’t “afford to leave talent on the sidelines,” but that we “won’t unlock the full potential of the workplace until we see how far from equality we really are.”
Rather than focusing on who, and who isn’t, in the C-suite, Women in the Workplace researchers first examined the corporate pipeline, starting from entry-level professional positions. Their findings show that fewer women than men are hired at the entry level, despite women representing 57 percent of recent college graduates. Researchers also found that inequality starts with the very first round of promotions. In fact, the biggest gender gap occurs at the first step up to manager. From the very beginning of their careers, entry-level women are 18 percent less likely to be promoted than their male peers. This entry-level gender disparity has a dramatic effect on the pipeline as a whole. If entry-level women were promoted at the same rate as their male peers, the number of women at the senior vice president and C-suite levels would more than double
This is where we can start to raise awareness and focus our energies. Why are women underrepresented? Look at a company’s hiring practices and first round of promotions. To make advancement available to more women we actually need to get more women in the pipeline, and not just seeking the jobs, but looking for advancement opportunities from the very beginning. We need to make the workplace welcoming for both genders in order to make this happen. As Kelly Stickel, CEO & Founder of Remondista writes at GirlTalk HQ, “The companies that identify the value of the female workforce will win. The ones that cultivate an environment that is inclusive of the female leader, will win bigger. Why is it important to make everyone feel welcome? When people feel welcome they perform better, more ideas come to the surface, leaving you with more options for solutions.”
We need to do more than simply nod at inclusivity and representation; we need to actually change hiring practices and look closely at the workplace culture. The ability to collaborate and welcome every individual, male and female, is crucial for success in the global economy. We need women from all walks of life to apply for the jobs, put in for the promotions, and take the lead to engage this untapped resource of feminine leadership.