Employers ‘failing to understand the scale of the diversity problem’

Women At Work


Women’s progress is slow and may even be stalling in part because many employees and companies fail to understand the magnitude of the problem, according to a new US report from LeanIn.org and McKinsey & Co.

Drawing on pipeline data from 222 companies employing more than 12 million people, the report shows that women remain significantly underrepresented at every level in corporate America – and women of colour face an even more dramatic drop-off at senior levels. Only one in five C-suite leaders is a woman, and fewer than one in 30 is a woman of colour. The report says this disparity is not due to company-level attrition or lack of interest: women and men stay at their companies and ask for promotions at similar rates.

However, it also shows that company commitment to gender diversity is at an all-time high for the third year in a row. The report puts this commitment and the lack of any significant impact down to “the blind spots we have when it comes to diversity, and we can’t solve problems that we don’t see or understand clearly”.

It states: “Many employees think women are well represented in leadership when they see only a few. Nearly 50 percent of men think women are well represented in leadership in companies where only one in ten senior leaders is a woman. And remarkably, a third of women agree. It is hard to imagine a groundswell of change when many employees don’t see anything wrong with the status quo.”

“We can’t unlock the full potential of the workplace until we see how far from equality we really are,” said Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook COO and founder of LeanIn.Org. “We need to resist the temptation to settle for the status quo and do more to build diverse teams and inclusive workplaces. This is not just about fairness, but also about building more prosperous companies and a strong economy for us all.”

The report found more than 60 percent of men say that their company is doing what it takes to improve gender diversity, while only 49 percent of women agree. Fifty percent of men say managers consider a diverse line-up of candidates to fill open positions, compared to just 35 percent of women. Further, the report says men are less personally committed to gender diversity and some worry that diversity efforts disadvantage them.

The report identifies concrete actions that companies can take to level the playing field, from making a strong business case for gender diversity to tracking gender metrics, sharing them broadly with employees and setting targets. It also says more needs to be done to get managers on board and give them the tools they need. It adds that companies need to address the distinct barriers women of colour face and get sufficient buy-in from men.

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