When it comes to advancing in the workplace, it turns out women may be “leaning in” without getting very far, according Women in the Workplace 2016, a new report from McKinsey & Company and LeanIn.org. The report finds that women are less likely than men to receive the first critical promotion to manager—so far fewer end up on the path to leadership—and they are less likely to be hired into more senior positions. Women also get less access to the people, input, and opportunities that accelerate careers. As a result, the higher you look in companies, the fewer women you see. This disparity is especially pronounced for women of color, who face the most barriers to advancement and experience the steepest drop-offs with seniority. While some of these findings aren’t exactly new, the report provides a fuller look at women in corporate America.
The findings are based on data (as of the end of last year) from 132 companies that employ more than 4.6 million people. Building on the Women in the Workplace 2015 report, as well as similar research conducted by McKinsey & Company in 2012, the study included a survey of 34,000 employees that assessed issues like job satisfaction, work-life issues, and attitudes on gender.
One area where women are struggling is with lack of feedback. Feedback is critical for improving performance, but despite asking for informal feedback as often as men do, the 2015 study found women receive it less frequently. In fact, women are more than 20% less likely than men to say their manager often gives them difficult feedback that improves their performance. Moreover, there appears to be a disconnect in the way managers convey difficult feedback. Most managers say they rarely hesitate to give difficult feedback to both women and men, but women report they receive it less frequently. Women in the Workplace authors write that this may be driven by differences in how feedback is delivered: managers who hesitate to give difficult feedback appear to be concerned about triggering an emotional response from women.
That concern could be due in part to findings from another recent study that reports that men and women deal differently with the emotional fallout associated with receiving feedback or criticism. A group of researchers led by Margarita Mayo, a professor of leadership at IE Business School in Madrid, found that women are far more sensitive to feedback than men are. The study, published in the Harvard Business Review, examined Mayo’s assumption that receiving feedback involves some emotional consequences that may block the very same learning processes it is intended to boost. Researchers looked at how MBA students react to feedback they received about their leadership competence from their peers.
Bottom line, direct feedback is critical because it helps employees take the steps they need to improve their performance and advance. And we all know that without clear, actionable advice and performance feedback, women aren’t able to see a clear possibility for change or a way to reach the next level in the workplace, which can be very frustrating. Following established criteria and clearly identifying key issues and potential for growth will lead women to invest more fully in the workplace, not to mention the fact that providing specific feedback can help us close the gap and create a path forward for all women.
Women in the Workplace finds that many companies’ commitment to gender diversity is at an all-time high, they are struggling to put their commitment into practice, and find that many employees are not on board. To level the playing field, companies need to treat gender diversity like the business imperative it is, and that starts with better communication, more training, and a clearer focus on results. As women, when we can learn how to build one another up and become comfortable with the process of giving and taking feedback, we will stop disrespecting ourselves and others and build the positive sisterhood that will help us all achieve the success we all deserve.