Women in the Workplace 2019 is designed to provide insights on workplace equality, and how companies can progress workplace diversity. Advocating for gender equality in the working environment, the report seeks to address the “broken rung” in the career ladder. 

In its fifth year and with five years of data to now analyse and draw information from, McKinsey & Company reveals in its latest study that there are “bright spots at senior levels”.

Yet, to make this the case throughout industry, companies need to centre their recruitment and workplace equality priorities at the outset of the pipeline.

Overall, global businesses are experiencing the value of women in leadership roles, yet they are still “underrepresented at every level”, within company structures. 

Workplace equality: Smashing the glass ceiling

The ‘glass ceiling’ reality is not new, but it remains the “biggest obstacle that women face on the path to leadership”. 

Exploring data gathered over five years from 590 companies employing more than 22 million people, McKinsey & Company reveals that the key to reaching true parity is to fix this broken rung. It needs to ensure the culture of work is one filled with respect, opportunity, fairness and inclusivity. 

When approached based on these values, hiring and promoting more diverse candidates happens naturally. As a result, companies need to build a strong and influential culture that works together in harmony, simultaneously. Women and underrepresented groups, therefore, are more likely to feel “happier and more likely to thrive” when this environment is present, the study emphasises. 

By prioritising to fix this broken rung, companies and the wider industry can close the gender gap and help to make progress to achieve workplace equality. 

The Gender Parity Reality

Key Facts

  • 44% of companies have three or more women in their C-suite, an increase from 29% of companies in 2015. 
  • However, around 1 in 5 C-suite executives is a woman—and only 1 in 25 C-suite executives is a woman of colour, the report reveals.
  • For every 100 men promoted and hired to manager, only 72 women are promoted and hired.
  • Men are in 62% of manager-level positions, while women hold just 38% of these.

Fortunately, two core trends are leading to more and more women being offered and accepting roles in senior leadership: 

  1. A higher number of women are entering the hiring process at director level and above.
  2. For women in senior positions, promotions are taking place on average at a higher level than for men. 

However, it’s important to note that the rate of men in SVP and C-suite level positions leaving their organisation is higher than it is for women. Therefore, this may be contributing to the number of positions available for women to apply and move into. 

The impact of a broken rung

A broken rung throughout society presents a perceivably insurmountable obstacle for women to climb in order to reach the top of their desired career paths.

As women ascend the levels of seniority within business, the number of women occupying those positions decreases. So, even if hiring and promotion numbers rise, women cannot narrow the disparity between the number of men and women in these roles. It’s a numbers game, and there are simply too few women to catch up.

Employees are overly optimistic about the working landscape for women, the report reveals. When 1 in 3 managers in their company is a woman, 62% of men and 54% of women think women are well represented at first-level management. Similarly, when 1 in 10 senior leaders in their organisation is a woman, 44% of men and 22% of women think women are well represented in senior leadership.

If we can fix the broken rung, then we can “set off a positive chain reaction across the entire pipeline”. As more women reach managerial levels, there will be an increased number of women to promote and hire at each level. With more women at entry-level, more women will then travel up the ranks to management, and subsequently move into leadership roles. 

How can we fix the broken rung?

1. Set goals for placing women into first-level management

Approximately a third of companies currently target the representation of women at first-level management roles, compared to 41% for senior levels of management.

“Companies should use targets more aggressively,” the report states. Producing and publishing “a bold goal”, along with producing processes that guide employee representation, will contribute to these targets.

2. Diverse slates necessary for hiring and promotions

Senior level management is more likely to need diverse candidate slates for promotions than at management level. However, “outside research shows that diverse slates can be a powerful driver of change at every level”. Research indicates that two or more women present on a slate is likely to result in attaining the specific position sought.

3. Unconscious bias training

Unconscious bias is a key indicator in identifying who is hired and promoted, or who is not. Those companies that have employees who enter into entry-level performance reviews are less likely to provide unconscious bias training than those with senior-level reviews. However, removing bias at this level is particularly vital.

Research suggests that unconscious bias training works particularly well in certain environments. For example, in those companies with smaller gender disparities in representation, half of their employees received unconscious bias training in the past year. However, this figure dropped to a quarter of employees in companies that are not actively working towards narrowing the disparity.

4. Identify clear evaluation criteria

Organisations need relevant and appropriate procedures to remove bias when entering recruitment and review processes. Establishing clear evaluation criteria is, therefore, necessary before the start of the review process. Specific and select criteria for evaluation tools is important to help collect objective and measurable information.

Additional safeguards should also be present to promote fair and unbiased evaluations. To achieve workplace equality, the environment should also encourage employees to raise bias. Appropriate training and resources are also important to enable proactive reporting.

5. More management opportunities for women

Women must get the experience they need before preparing for management roles, the report states. Gaining such experience should be coupled with opportunities to increase their presence and profile among key personnel within the company.

“The building blocks to make this happen are not new,” the report emphasises. Leadership training, sponsorship and high-profile assignments are often present, or if not, are accessible. Yet, urgency is key to ensure employees maximise their positive influence on achieving workplace equality.

Reaching true workplace equality…

Optimistic about the impact of the report and relevant body of research, “companies have what they need to succeed”, the report states. Best practice awareness, gaps and challenges in the talent pipeline, and the necessity of equal opportunity and fairness are present. And so, “this is a critical moment.” 

“We can treat diversity like the business imperative it is, or we can treat it as an optional initiative. We can build on the progress we’ve made, or we can lose momentum.

Optimism is present. Yet, while improving statistics is one element, reaching true parity requires much more. Businesses also need to invest in creating a strong culture. Companies can achieve this by implementing vital foundational elements, namely equal opportunities and fairness; work-life flexibility; and a safe, respectful workplace for all to thrive in.

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