Corporate America was designed with men in mind—and has been stubbornly and agonizingly slow to change. While we’re past the days of near-complete exclusion of women from the corporate sphere and leadership roles, the fact remains that corporate America continues to fall short when it comes to including, supporting, and advancing women.
That much is clear from McKinsey & Company and LeanIn.org’s 2022 Women in the Workplace report, an annual study that, since 2015, has provided insights on gender diversity in the workplace.
“Women are still ambitious about their careers, and they have fought to get to where we are today, but it’s not getting any easier,” Nicole Robinson, PhD, an associate partner and coauthor of the report, tells The Muse in an email. Much of what past Women in the Workplace reports have identified as broken remains so—such as disparities in promotions and representation—and fresh challenges pose new risks that could jeopardize the limited progress we’ve made in the last decade.
But in an era when a global pandemic has disrupted old notions of work and galvanized changing expectations of the workplace, women are demanding more and waiting around less. In a sense, that’s good news. Women are refusing to accept an outdated status quo. Companies have an opportunity to step up and accelerate gender diversity, equity, and inclusion at work in a meaningful way—and some have, attracting women who are leaving behind the companies that haven’t.
“Women leaders are saying effectively, ‘We’ve had enough,’” LeanIn.org CEO Rachel Thomas told NPR. “‘We want successful careers. But we’re going to go look for organizations that are delivering the work culture that we also want.’”
The 2022 report is based on research from 333 organizations, survey responses from more than 40,000 employees, and interviews with a diverse array of women in the workplace, including women of color, LGBTQ+ women, and women with disabilities.
It’s worth your time to take a look at the full report, but we’ll start you off with 11 of the ways corporate America is still failing women in 2022:
1. Women are still glaringly underrepresented—and it gets worse and worse the higher up you go.
Women make up just about half (48%) of entry-level employees, but representation goes downhill from there at every step. At the manager level, women make up only 40% of employees. When you get to senior manager and director roles, women hold only 36% of jobs. Women are 32% and 28% of vice presidents and senior vice presidents, respectively. And by the time you get up to the C-suite, women’s representation drops to just 26%.
The only silver lining in these damning numbers is the fact that representation has improved in comparison to five years ago at every level, anywhere from one to seven percentage points.
Of course, some organizations do better than others when it comes to representation—and women are taking note. “When I joined this company, I noticed there were a lot of women and people of color in leadership,” one Black woman at the manager level told the researchers. “That let me know it was possible for me to advance. When you come into a company and there are leaders who look like you, it just feels different.”
2. The first rung from entry-level to manager remains broken.
To home in for a second on how we get from nearly half of women in entry-level positions to about a quarter at the highest executive levels, the report points to the stubborn “broken rung” phenomenon. As they’ve pointed out year after year, that first step up from entry level to manager undermines progress all the way up the ladder (hence the “broken rung”).
“For every 100 men promoted from entry level to manager, only 87 women are promoted, and only 82 women of color are promoted,” the report says. “As a result, men significantly outnumber women at the manager level, and women can never catch up. There are simply too few women to promote into senior leadership positions.”
In other words, achieving parity in representation at the highest levels (or anything near parity) will be impossible until women are promoted more equitably from entry-level to manager roles.
3. Women who have advanced to more senior roles are leaving their jobs at high rates, much more so than men.
Those first two findings are longstanding issues previous reports have already identified. But here’s a new and (also) concerning trend: Women leaders are leaving their companies at the highest rate in years—and at notably higher rates than men. For example, for every woman in a director role who gets promoted, two are leaving their organizations.
“Women are voting with their feet when they feel that they don’t have opportunities to advance, enough flexibility or support, or a manageable workload,” Robinson says. “Companies need to understand this risk and take action. If not, they risk losing the next generation of women leaders to competitors who prioritize what women are telling us is important to them.”
4. Women face more microaggressions and other obstacles that make it harder to advance—and more taxing to be at work.
Women are more likely to experience microaggressions and less likely to feel psychological safety at work than men. It manifests in a slew of ways that make it less pleasant to be at work and more difficult to move up: Colleagues give others credit for their ideas, question their judgment, assume they’re more junior than they are, make comments about their appearance, criticize them for their demeanor, and make assumptions about their culture or nationality. Women are also less likely to feel comfortable disagreeing with coworkers and more likely to feel excluded. Just reading that long list is tiring, and living it is far worse.
5. Women invest more time in people management and DEI. Not only are they not rewarded for it, but it also might hold them back from promotions.
Women in leadership are twice as likely as men at their level to devote significant time and effort to diversity, equity, and inclusion, but 40% of these women in senior roles say their efforts aren’t acknowledged let alone considered in their performance reviews. A similar pattern emerges with employee well-being, another area where women leaders are more likely to devote energy than men but that isn’t necessarily rewarded with opportunities for advancement.
6. Women also do more housework and caregiving compared to men at their level—at every level.
Not only are women overworked at work, but they’re also overworked at home. More often than not, they continue to shoulder most or all of the housework and/or childcare as they advance while fewer and fewer men do. The disparity with peer men grows at each step. Twice as many entry-level women do most or all of this work compared to men at their level (58% vs. 30%). At the manager level it’s nearly three times (58% vs. 21%) and at the senior manager level and up it’s four times (52% vs. 13%).
“I know that most men in the C-suite have a stay-at-home spouse,” one woman—a white woman with physical disabilities in a senior manager role—told the researchers. “My CEO, he’s a nice guy. But he doesn’t have kids at home. He’s not thinking about the logistical challenges of having to look after your family.”
7. Women are far more likely than men at their level to burn out.
With women devoting more time to DEI and employee well-being at work, facing taxing microaggressions and barriers, and taking on housework and childcare, it’s no surprise that women are burning out at higher rates than the men they work with. Thirty-one percent of men in leadership are burnt out, but that number climbs to 43% for women.
8. Women want real commitments to flexibility, employee well-being, and DEI—and companies aren’t cutting it.
Back to that attrition problem—women who’ve succeeded in making it to leadership positions despite the headwinds they face are increasingly switching jobs. Women and men are likely to move for advancement opportunities at similar rates (48% vs. 44%), but women are much more likely than men to leave because of flexibility (20% vs. 13%), company commitment to DEI (18% vs. 11%), and unmanageable workloads (17% vs. 10%).
These factors driving women already in leadership to pursue other opportunities are even more important to women under 30, which means companies that don’t make strides in areas like flexibility, DEI, and workload aren’t just seeing senior-level women leave today, they’re also less attractive to women who could potentially take on those leadership roles in the future.
“This is creating a new pipeline problem for organizations not willing to change,” Robinson says. “Companies that fail to address these challenges run real risks with their talent recruitment and retention, particularly for underrepresented employees.”
9. Women of color, LGBTQ+ women, and women with disabilities have worse experiences at work.
“Eight years of this research confirms that inequality and disparity of experiences is unfortunately real and constant,” Robinson says. And yes, women tend to fare worse than men, but there’s more nuance when you start looking at women in different groups.
“Despite modest gains in representation,” Robinson says, “we have consistently seen that women with historically marginalized identities, including women of color, LGBTQ+ women and women with disabilities, face a worse experience in the workplace: They [are] more likely to endure microaggressions and barriers to advancement.”
Here are just a few of the ways in which women in historically marginalized groups have worse experiences at work:
- Women with disabilities are more likely than other women to have their judgment questioned, to see others get credit for their ideas, to be mistaken as more junior, to have their appearance commented on, and to be criticized for their demeanor (for example, that they “should smile more”).
- LGBTQ+ women were also more likely than other women to have their appearance commented on and to be criticized for their demeanor.
- Black and Latina women were much less likely than other women to have a sense of psychological safety at work or to say their manager showed an interest in their career or promoted inclusion on their team.
- Asian and Black women were least likely to say they had strong allies on their team or to report that a senior coworker had given them public praise for their skills or advocated for them to get a raise or promotion.
10. Mandates for specific types of work arrangements make everything worse.
Women whose work arrangements align with their own preferences—whether that’s remote, hybrid, or on-site—are more likely to say they’re happy (81% vs. 61%), they feel like they have an equal opportunity to advance (67% vs. 47%), they’re unlikely to leave their jobs (64% vs. 41%), or that they’re rarely burnt out (30% vs. 21%) than women who cant pick the work arrangement that’s best for them.
Remote work has helped reduce the volume of microaggressions and increase levels of psychological safety for women, so it tracks that women are more likely than men to want to work mostly remotely (61% vs. 50%) and far less likely to want to be on-site most of the time (10% vs. 18%).
“Some microaggressions just 100 percent don’t happen when I’m remote,” one woman—a Black VP with hybrid work setup—told the researchers. “A lot of people have said I should be worried about not having face time, but there’s another perspective, which is that people of color don’t want to be in a work environment where they don’t feel like they can be themselves.”
11. Companies aren’t training or rewarding managers who excel in the areas most important to women.
Women were more likely than men to say they left a job in the last two years because their manager wasn’t supportive (22% vs. 18%). And it’s becoming increasingly crucial—42% of women leaders and 56% of women under 30 said having manager support has become more important to them in the last two years. On top of individual support, women expect commitments to DEI and employee well-being and opportunities for flexibility and remote work. But companies aren’t acknowledging or rewarding managers for the former and haven’t trained managers to thrive in remote and hybrid environments.
But it’s not all bleak. “There is energy and momentum.”
Eight years into this annual study, there is some movement forward. “The progress is much too slow, but there is energy and momentum in corporate America that is encouraging,” Robinson says. And it’s time to double down on that momentum, she says. “If young women can take one thing away from the report it’s this: There is still much to be done to improve the experience of women in the workplace at all levels, but we must not give up our fight or settle for less.”
And that’s exactly what the women they look up to as leaders and mentors are showing them in action: They’re leaving behind organizations that aren’t cutting it. And they’re finding new opportunities at companies that have moved beyond the basic “table stakes” of DEI to implement what the report calls “leading” and “emerging” practices that really and truly advance women in the workplace.
Read more about previous Women in the Workplace reports: