Despite earning more college degrees than men for more than 30 years, women remain underrepresented at every level in corporate America. Research shows that companies with higher levels of gender diversity perform better than their counterparts, and many executives recognize this. Indeed, corporate commitment to gender diversity is at an all-time high for the third year in a row, according to a new report.

 

Drawing on data from 222 companies employing more than 12 million people, the results from a survey of more than 70,000 employees from 82 companies, along with a series of qualitative interviews, “Women in the Workplace 2017,” a study conducted by LeanIn.Org and McKinsey, examines why, despite the trend for growing commitment to gender diversity, progress continues to be slow.

 

The research identifies several key points. First, women remain significantly underrepresented in the corporate pipeline. Fewer women than men are hired at entry levels, despite women earning 57 percent of recent college graduates. However, the largest gender gap is at the first step up to manager: Entry-level women are 18 percent less likely to be promoted than their male peers, the report explains. Then, at every subsequent promotion, the representation of women further declines, and women of color face an even steeper drop-off at senior levels. As a result, one in five C-suite leaders is a woman, and fewer than one in 30 is a woman of color, the report continues.

 

Perhaps unsurprisingly, women are less optimistic than men about their career prospects. Among the respondents, women were less likely than men to say they aspire to be a top executive. And even the women who aspire to be a top executive are significantly less likely to think they’ll become one than men with the same aspiration, according to the research.

 

Women of color, particularly black women, face even greater challenges. As the report explains, the intersection of race and gender shape women’s experiences in meaningful ways. Women of color face more obstacles and a steeper path to leadership, from receiving less support from managers to getting promoted more slowly, the report notes. For instance, although women in general are more likely than men to report they never interact with senior leaders, black women are the most likely to report they never have senior-level contact, according to survey responses. This may affect how they view the workplace and their opportunities for advancement, the authors note.

 

It is somewhat given that women and men see the state of women in the workplace—and the success of gender-diversity efforts—differently. The survey found that men are more likely to think their companies are doing a “pretty good job” supporting diversity, while women see more room for improvement. Indeed, nearly 50 percent of the men in the study think women are well represented in leadership in companies where only one in 10 senior leaders are women.

 

Among the survey respondents, men are also less committed to gender-diversity efforts, and some even believe that such efforts place them at a disadvantage. For example, 15 percent of men in the survey said they think their gender will make it more difficult for them to advance, and white men are almost twice as likely as men of color to think this.

 

The report goes on to explain that to move toward gender equality, companies need a comprehensive plan for supporting and advancing women. Building on findings from previous years—and incorporating new insights about what top-performing companies are doing—the report authors believe companies should start with these key actions:

·                     Make a compelling case for gender diversity

·                     Invest in more employee training

·                     Ensure that hiring, promotions and reviews are fair

·                     Give employees the flexibility to fit work into their lives

·                     Focus on accountability and results

 

Additionally, it’s critical for executives to understand their company’s particular pain points and tackle them directly. For most, if not all companies, this includes addressing the distinct barriers women of color face—and getting sufficient buy-in from male employees, the authors continue. Until they do, companies’ gender-diversity efforts are likely to continue to fall short, the authors conclude.

 

What are your thoughts on gender diversity in the workplace? Do you think companies are making progress, even if it is slow?