The pandemic’s impact on women in corporate America, including in travel, tourism and hospitality, has been significant. Not only did the crisis threaten to erase progress in women’s representation, but it also led to burnout at a rate double the level of men.
Now, amidst what McKinsey & Company and LeanIn.org are dubbing the “Great Breakup,” women leaders are switching jobs at the highest rate on record – and at a higher rate than men – as women demand more from their employers.
According to the Women in the Workplace 2022 study, despite modest gains in representation over the past eight years, women – and especially women of color – are still drastically underrepresented in corporate America.
In senior leadership, only one in four C-suite leaders is a woman, and only one in 20 is a woman of color.
Holding women back is the “broken rung” at the first step up to manager: For every 100 men who are promoted from entry level to manager, only 87 women are promoted, and only 82 women of color are promoted.
“As a result, men significantly outnumber women at the manager level, and women can never catch up. There are simply too few women to promote into senior leadership positions,” the report states.
Women leaders are leaving their companies at the highest rate in years, and the gap between women and men leaders leaving is the largest on record, the study finds. Putting the scale of the problem in perspective: For every woman at the director level who gets promoted to the next level, two women directors are choosing to leave their company.
The study finds women leaders are leaving their companies for three key reasons.
Number one, while women leaders aspire to senior level roles, they face stronger headwinds than men. At many companies, women leaders experience microaggressions that undermine their authority and signal that it will be harder for them to advance.
Women leaders are also more likely to report that personal characteristics such as their gender or being a parent have played a role in them being denied or passed over for a raise, promotion or chance to get ahead.
According to the report, women leaders are 2x as likely as men to be mistaken for someone more junior, and 37% of women leaders have had a coworker get credit for their idea compared to 27% of men.
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Black women leaders are more likely than women leaders of other races and ethnicities to receive signals that it will be harder for them to advance. Compared to other women at their level, Black women leaders are more likely to have colleagues question their competence and to be subject to demeaning behavior.
Number two, women leaders are overworked and under-recognized. Compared to men at their level, women leaders do more to support employee well-being and foster diversity, equity and inclusion, though they are not formally rewarded for that work at most companies.
The study finds that women leaders are 2x more likely as men to spend substantial time on work related to DEI. Forty percent of women leaders say their DEI work isn’t acknowledged at all in performance reviews, and 43% of women leaders say they are burned out compared to only 31% of men.
Number three, women leaders want a better work culture. Women leaders are significantly more likely than men to leave their jobs because they want more flexibility or because they want to work for a company that is more committed to employee well-being and DEI.
Women leaders are 1.5x as likely as men at their level to have left a previous job because they wanted to work for a company that was more committed to DEI, while 49% of women leaders say flexibility is one of the top three things they consider when deciding whether to join or stay with a company.
The road ahead
If companies don’t take action in response to these trends, they’re at risk of losing more women leaders, the report warns.
Companies are also at risk of losing young women, who are more likely than women leaders to say they’re increasingly prioritizing flexibility and company commitment to well-being and DEI.
“Companies that don’t take action may struggle to recruit and retain the next generation of women leaders—and for companies that already have a ‘broken rung’ in their leadership pipeline, this has especially worrisome implications,” the report states.
There are simply too few women to promote into senior leadership positions.
McKinsey & LeanIn
Looking ahead, the option to work remotely is especially important to women. When women – and particularly women of color, LGBTQ+ women and women with disabilities - work remotely at least some of the time, they experience fewer microaggressions and higher levels of psychological safety.
The report continues that employees who can choose their work arrangements are less likely to leave, with 81% of women saying they are happy with their job when they’re able to work where they want to.
To support hybrid and remote work, employers should gather employee input, foster employee connectedness, ensure equal opportunity and track outcomes, the report advises.
Companies should also examine the key role managers play in retaining women. When managers invest in people management and DEI, women are happier and less burned out. They are also less likely to think about leaving their jobs.
However, there is a growing gap between what’s expected of managers and how they’re being trained and rewarded. Companies are expecting managers to do more to support employees and foster inclusion, but employees say managers aren’t showing up consistently.
Only about half of women say their manager regularly encourages respectful behavior on their team, and less than half say their manager shows interest in their career and helps them manage their workload.
The report concludes that, to make meaningful and sustainable progress toward gender equality, companies should focus on two broad goals: getting more women into leadership and retaining the women leaders they already have.
“This will require pushing beyond common practices,” the report states.
Companies that have better representation of women, especially women of color, are going further. They’re doubling down on setting goals, tracking outcomes and holding leaders accountable, plus offering more specific and actionable training to managers.
They are also creating dedicated programs around mentorship and sponsorship and offering benefits to improve women’s day-to-day work experiences.
Finally, companies need to take specific, highly targeted steps to address their “broken rung,” which starts by identifying where the largest gap in promotions is for women in their pipeline.
“Then companies need to make sure women and men are put up for promotions at similar rates, monitor outcomes to make sure they’re equitable and root out biased aspects of their evaluation process.”
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