McKinsey and LeanIn.org recently released the findings of their 6th annual women in the workplace report. This year, the report began with the phrase, “A crisis is looming in corporate America.” That’s right, a CRISIS. McKinsey’s Women in the Workplace report serves as a good annual reminder of where we stand in recruiting, retaining, and advancing women in corporate America.
Between 2015 and 2019, nearly 600 companies have participated in the Women in the Workplace research study. During this time more than a quarter of a million people were surveyed on their workplace experiences. This year’s report highlights the negative effects COVID-19 has had upon women at work and looks at its threat to years of progress on gender equality.
“A Critical Moment for Corporate America”
Covid-19 has upended life around the world, especially for women, who are feeling the impact most acutely. For women balancing work demands with family obligations, Covid-19 has intensified the already difficult juggle. Now, as the lines between work and home blur, women feel stretched to an almost unmanageable degree. So, the stark figures that show women dropping out of the workforce at alarming rates, come as little surprise. In September 2020, 1.1 million people dropped out of the workforce and 80% were women, according to the National Women’s Law Center.
Women of color have it particularly hard. While women are more likely to be laid off or furloughed during the Covid-19 crisis when compared to men, women of color are impacted at even greater rates. For Black women, who already face increased barriers to entry and advancement in the workplace, Covid-19 has dealt a crushing blow, as it disproportionally impacts their community while they simultaneously confront the enflamed racial violence on display across the country.
The McKinsey report aptly concluded, “As a result of these dynamics, 1 in 4 women are contemplating what many would have considered unthinkable less than a year ago: downshifting their careers or leaving the workforce. This is a critical moment for corporate America. Companies risk losing women in leadership—and future women leaders—and unwinding years of painstaking progress toward gender diversity.”
Key Findings from Women in the Workplace 2020 Report
Key findings from the report highlight the difficult situation we face as a country as Covid-19 threatens the progress towards gender equality in corporate America.
- There is a “Broken Rung” in the Pipeline
Slow but steady progress in women’s representation has been made. But a “broken rung” at the first step up to manager continues to hold women back.
- Childcare Disproportionality Falls on Women
During Covid-19, childcare and housework have mostly fallen to mothers. 76% of mothers with children under age 10 say childcare is one of their top three challenges during Covid-19, compared to 54% of fathers with young children.
- Senior-level women nearly twice as likely as women overall to be “Onlys”
This means they are the only or one of the only women in the room at work. That comes with its own challenges: Women who are Onlys are more likely than women who work with other women to feel pressure to work more and to experience microaggressions, including needing to provide additional evidence of their competence
- The possibility of losing so many senior-level women is alarming
The financial consequences could be significant. Research shows that when women are well-represented at the top, companies are 50% more likely to outperform their peers.
- Women of color are disproportionality impacted
Black women are less likely to feel supported at work during Covid-19. “Of the 865,000 women who dropped out [of the workforce in September 2020], 58,000 were Black women and 324,000 were Latinas—who also saw unemployment increase from 10.5% in August to 11% in September, one of the only increases in joblessness for any group,” according to Fortune.
- There is no one size fits all experience of women during Covid-19
Across all the data about how employees are faring during the Covid-19 crisis, two trends stand out.
- First, women are having a worse experience than men.
- Second, women aren’t all having identical experiences. Black women, Latinas, Asian women, LGBTQ+ women, and women with disabilities are facing distinct challenges. It’s important for companies to understand this so they can address those challenges directly.
Actions with Impact: How You Can Turn a Potential Crisis into An Opportunity for Your Organization
Action #1: Read “The Loudest Duck” book.
The Loudest Duck, is a practical guidebook for everyone looking to build an inclusive work environment whether, remote or in person. Author Laura Liswood dives into the many aspects of inclusion and equity in the workplace through practical stories, cultural anecdotes, and personal experiences. She discusses some of the reasons for the challenges encountered by historically underrepresented groups and suggests ways to overcome those obstacles by going beyond usual ideas about diversity. A must read for managers as well as employees.
Action #2: Men as Allies Inclusive Leadership Program. Men, are you interested in being part of the solution in building an inclusive work environment but not sure how or where to begin? Forté Foundation is launching a new “Men as Allies Inclusive Leadership” executive education class. In four half-day sessions experts will guide participants through a series of collaborative activities including: self-reflection, group discussions, and creating a personal action plan based on Forté’s Ally Empower Framework. This framework is applicable to all dimensions of diversity.
Action #3: Engage with External Networks. For example, there is an exciting new company, Kahilla, that has created a basecamp for women on the rise. This innovative digital platform allows companies to expand their resources and capacity by uniquely combining content, community, and coaching to disrupt the status quo and allow women to reach their next peak — and keep rising. Check out their latest blueprint on “Why and How To Invest In DEI Today And Tomorrow.” Their blueprint includes 8 strategies for re-entry and return to work considerations from a diversity and inclusion lens.
Action #4: Pledge to Do Something. The year of 2020 has been a challenge to us all, and it is imperative that we do not let women slip back. As the report findings state: Corporate America is at a crossroads. The choices that companies make today will have consequences both for their organizations and society for decades to come. What will you pledge to do today to invest in women?