How Much Progress Have Women Made in the Workplace?

women in the workplaceThe issue of women in the workplace has often been discussed in politics and the media. Yet for all the rhetoric, few Americans actually have clarity around the facts. Are women making substantial progress in climbing the leadership ranks? When they do, are they able to reach the same compensation levels as their male counterparts? In 2018, how far do women have to go in order to reach parity with men in the workplace?

The Women in the Workplace 2017 report, presented by McKinsey & Company and Lean In is one of the leading studies available on the subject. It provides us with a valuable snapshot in time as to where women are in the workplace, relative to men and to objective measures including years past. In all, 222 companies with more than 12 million total employees shared their pipeline data and completed a survey of HR practices. In addition, more than 70,000 employees completed a survey designed to explore their experiences regarding gender, opportunity, career, and work-life issues.

The Big Picture

Women continue to struggle in the workplace, relative to men. Though women account for 57 percent of recent college graduates (according to the study), fewer women are hired at the entry level. At higher levels of employment, their representation continues to diminish. Minority women are especially under-represented. In the C-suite, one in five leaders is a woman and only one in thirty is a woman of color.

As the Steps Go Up, Female Representation Goes Down

Women comprise 52 percent of the total United States population, but are under-represented in the workplace, and increasingly so at ascending levels of leadership. Consider the percentages of women represented at each step in the corporate hierarchy:

Employee Level                      % of Women 2017                  2016                2015

Entry Level                               48%                                         46%                 45%

Manager                                   37%                                         37%                 37%

Sr. Manager/Director                34%                                         33%                 32%

VP                                            29%                                         29%                 27%

SVP                                          22%                                         24%                 23%

C-Suite                                     21%                                         19%                 17%

Women are making slow, but steady progress in the C-suite, and to a lesser degree at the VP level, but are stalling at the SVP level. As women gain experience, they continue to be promoted at lesser rates than men. The biggest gap in advancement in 2017 was from entry level to managerial roles. Women were 18 percent less likely to get this promotion than their male peers. This bottleneck has a profound effect on the rest of the pipeline. The report suggests “… if entry-level women were promoted at the same rate as their male peers, the number of women at the SVP and C-suite levels would more than double.”

At top-performing companies, women are 4% less likely to be promoted to manager, whereas in average companies, women are 18% less likely to be promoted to manager than men. This seems to suggest a possible correlation between company performance and the promotion of women. It also likely suggests that top-performing women choose top-performing organizations.

The Glass Ceiling Is Higher in Some Industries, Lower in Others

Industries with higher representation of women in leadership positions include health care (35% women in the C-Suite), retail (31%), and media and entertainment (27%). Industries with lower representation of women in leadership positions include telecom and IT services (15%), technology hardware and software (17%), and insurance (17%). It will be interesting to note how these numbers change over time as educational initiatives to make STEM more attractive and accessible to girls take effect.

Where Race and Gender Meet

Though women generally lag behind men in advanced positions, women of color (non-white) are especially under-represented at the highest levels (3% C-Suite, 4% SVP, 6% VP). At the top of the food chain, women of color occupy just 3 percent of C-suite roles, while representing 19 percent of the U.S. population.

The report examined the support factors that contribute to advancement including managerial advice, advocacy for opportunities, stretch assignments, and help with organizational politics. Black and Latina women consistently received less managerial support in each of these areas than Asian and Caucasian women.

The Good News – Negotiations for Promotions and Raises

Corporate America continues to reward assertiveness, regardless of gender or ethnicity. When women negotiate for a raise or a promotion, they achieve similar results as men. Overall, women who lobby for a promotion are twice as likely to get one, though the report says they often receive feedback that they are “intimidating,” “too aggressive,” or “bossy” when they do assert their right to negotiate.

That feedback is likely the by-product of decades-old social conditioning by gender from a young age. Social values have been changing slowly over time. Today, girls are encouraged to pursue a broader range of career opportunities and are given the training to do so. Will trends like this lead to a sudden and impactful shift for women in corporate America? We’ll continue to monitor the data while we work to create equal opportunities for all in the workplace.