The release of a new Women in the Workplace report from Lean In always conjures up ambivalent emotions. On the positive side, it’s undeniable that there are more efforts toward female representation in corporate America than ever before. Yet, seeing the movement in the right direction in such small measurements year after year can be frustrating. Positive change never comes as fast as we would like, and there is still plenty for room for improvement when it comes to women in the workplace.
Gender disparity persists across all organizational levels in all industries, with the greatest disparity still in senior leadership positions. That’s why EWF has picked the seven key highlights from Lean In’s latest Women in the Workplace report that all career women need to know for 2022.
1. Gender Equity Progressed Slowly in 2020
Despite the challenges brought on by the pandemic, which more deeply affected working women, female representation across industries increased in 2020, particularly at the end of the year. Although that’s excellent news, indicating that gender equity in the workplace is moving in the right direction, the progress has been relatively slow.
Women (especially women of color) are still underrepresented in the corporate pipeline. There are 30% white women and only 17% women of color in entry-level positions. Only 28% of white women and 12% women of color are managers, while 27% and 9%, respectively, are senior managers or directors. The numbers keep dropping at every step up the corporate ladder, showing the slowest progress at the senior manager, director, and VP levels.
At the highest step of the ladder (C-suite), 20% are white women and only 4% women of color, despite white women and women of color representing 41% and 10% of the corporate pipeline respectively. The past year continues to show progress towards gender equity but continues only at a glacial pace.
2. The Broken Rung Still Exists and Continues to Deny Women
Women continue to be stymied by the broken rung of the corporate ladder that reflects the low promotion rate of women into managerial roles on the way to more senior leadership positions. Today, it continues to be the biggest obstacle gatekeeping women from reaching senior-level positions and achieving gender equity in corporate leadership.
Although many companies have made progress in reducing hiring process bias and promoting women to managers and executives, promotions from entry levels through C-suite positions are still not equitable in most organizations. For every 100 men promoted to manager by the end of 2020, 86 women were promoted. With more managerial positions filled by men, the numbers dictate they are more likely to reach senior leadership positions, creating fewer opportunities for women to do the same.
On a more positive note, 2021’s Women in the Workplace report marked the first time women of color did not show a sizable disparity to white women on their path to leadership. For every 100 men promoted to manager, 85 women of color were promoted. While still behind the average rate of women overall, it is positive progress.
3. Women Are Still Disproportionately Affected by Burnout
Burnout, stress, and exhaustion continue to be the top reasons career women in the US are thinking about reducing their work hours, switching career tracks, or exiting the workforce altogether. The heightened stress in the face of COVID-19 has led to a higher burnout for career women, especially working mothers and women in senior leadership positions. Women of all career levels considering a career downshift, but especially those in senior leadership, present a genuine threat to continued gender parity in the workplace.
In 2020, one in three women (32%) reported feeling “often” or “almost always” burned out at work, compared to 28% of men who reported the same. The number of women who have considered downshifting their career or leaving the workforce altogether rose to 42% in 2021, compared to 35% of men. Burnout and equity are related more than most people realize. Women in the workplace feel the pressure to work harder than men to get the same recognition while feeling they cannot express their feelings or emotional state without losing credibility.
Working mothers have an even bigger load on their shoulders, often handling more home and family responsibilities than their husbands on top of work stress. The pandemic shift to remote work did not help this situation, enmeshing work, home, and caregiver responsibilities. The result stretched working mothers thin and began to affect their mental, emotional, and physical health, leading to thoughts of downshifting or abandoning their careers.
4. Women Are Driving DEI Initiatives, But Their Work Is Going Overlooked
Female leaders across industries are championing DEI (Diversity, Equity, Inclusion) initiatives, promoting inclusive leadership at all organizational levels. Women in managerial positions (49%) are more active than male managers (43%) in leading informal DEI work. And at the senior-level positions, 54% of women and 46% of men engage in DEI initiatives that are not part of their formal job responsibilities. This engagement includes supporting ERGs (Employee Resource Groups), organizing support events, and hiring underrepresented workers.
Women leaders are nearly twice as likely as male leaders to go above and beyond the call of duty to ensure diversity, equity, and inclusion are represented in the workplace. Namely, 11% of female managers and 19% of senior-level women spend considerable time on DEI initiatives, compared to the 7% and 9% of their male counterparts. But, despite all their DEI efforts, most women in leadership are not being recognized or rewarded for their critical work, even though most managers, regardless of industry, say DEI is one of their top priorities.
Approximately 70% of companies say DEI is critical to their company, but only 24% of that work receives formal recognition. Companies continue to overlook these efforts and leave them unrecognized. A misstep that can hurt their organization’s ability to retain talent as it makes their main contributors unhappy, burned out, and more likely to leave for a position where their efforts will be appreciated. Additionally, by not highlighting their DEI work, many companies are missing out on the opportunity to attract high-quality talent who consider DEI initiatives a considerable plus for a prospective employer.
5. Despite DEI Efforts, The Daily Experience for Women of Color Remains Unimproved
Racial bias and discrimination are still a terrible hurdle in the US workplace for women of color. They continue to experience microaggressions at work more frequently than white women and face a broader range of biases. And black women continue to be disproportionately affected. For instance, 16% of Black women directly hear or overhear insults at work about their race or culture, compared to 9% of Asian women, 9% of Latinas, and 5% of white women who experience similar “othering” behavior. They’re also nearly three times as likely to have others comment on their hair or appearance.
Furthermore, Black and Asian women are more than four times as likely as white women to be confused with someone else of the same race/ethnicity. Despite improved DEI support over the past year, women of color continue to receive less support addressing workplace barriers that women of color face.
6. White Coworkers Continue to Stumble with Allyship
Although 77% of white employees say they are allies to women of color in the workplace, responses note significantly fewer are taking allyship actions. The report shows that 45% of white employees make an effort to learn about the experiences of women of color, 43% recognize and reward their work, 39% actively confront discrimination, 21% advocate for new opportunities for women of color, and only 10% sponsor or become a mentor to women of color.
Again, women continue to lead in these informal DEI leaders, with white women leaders more likely than their male counterparts to show up as allies to women of color. Lean In revealed that 61% of female managers and 73% of women in senior leadership are regularly taking at least three allyship actions, compared to 48% and 64% of their male counterparts, respectively.
7. Onlys & Double-Onlys
It’s important to identify and provide support for women in the workplace who are onlys and double-onlys. An “only” employee represents the only member of a particular gender or race/ethnicity from the rest of the group. For example, many women in senior leadership are used to being the “only” woman in the room. Onlys often encounter negative comments and have others scrutinize their work or exclude them from various activities.
Onlys are 47% more likely to be frequently interrupted and 45% more likely have someone question their judgment. They are also 28% more likely to receive comments from others about their emotional state—a poor combination for working mother onlys, who face even more adversity. More than half (55%) reported feeling burned out “often” or “almost always,” with 51% worried others in their company view them as less committed, and 25% feel judged for working remotely.
As you can likely surmise, double-onlys are those in the workplace who are onlys for both their gender and race/ethnicity. Often double-onlys face additional challenges to competence and an increased likelihood of experiencing bias, discrimination, burnout, and microaggressions in the workplace. These patterns include basic disrespect and “othering” behavior in the workplace.
Double-onlys are almost twice as likely as Onlys to hear others express surprise at their language skills and abilities, hear insults about their culture or race, or receive comments about their hair or appearance. Moreover, double-onlys often feel increased pressure from the expectation of others for them to serve as the representative or spokesperson for their demographic.
Key Takeaways from the Women in the Workplace Report
Lean In’s latest Women in the Workplace report shows that women’s struggles at work, especially for women of color, are far from over. Despite these challenges, corporate women in the United States are showcasing remarkable resilience in the face of COVID and gender inequality in the workplace. They are emerging as stronger leaders and making greater strides in DEI (Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion) initiatives than their male colleagues.
The path forward is clear and paved with DEI practices for building an inclusive workplace, bias-free recruitment, equitable promotions, ongoing leadership development, and accountability to accelerate progress. To improve your career and organization for 2022, consider partnering with EWF International.
We offer support for women at every stage of their career journey, from succeeding through the broken rung with our Emerging Leaders Program to helping women in senior leadership become their best with our Executive Women Peer Advisory Forum. EWF International also provides Corporate Programming in various formats and subjects, from speaking engagements and seminars to leadership development programs and ERG support.