Around 20% of employees say that their company’s commitment to gender diversity feels like lip service, according to a new study by McKinsey & Company called Women in the Workplace 2018. While gender equality is a nice slogan to hang on the break room fridge, it’s about time for some real progress.
Currently, men hold about 62% of manager positions, while women hold only 38%. “For every 100 men promoted to manager, 79 women are,” the study says. It’s here that the real problem begins. Company hierarchies work a lot like a sales funnel: you put a bunch of workers at the bottom, and a few will make it up to the C-suite. Managerial positions, then, are the first choke point that cause significant cuts to the available pool of women workers.
“While women and men enter the workforce in roughly equal numbers, women fall behind in promotions from the very first step onto the management ladder,” says Vanessa Fuhrmans of the Wall Street Journal. “By the senior-manager level, men outnumber women two to one, and in the C-suite, just 22% are women.”
To tackle the issue of the management-level choke point, the McKinsey study suggests that companies “ensure that hiring and promotions are fair.” To do this, it’s imperative that businesses “make senior leaders and managers champions of diversity,” so that a culture of diversity can be deeply ingrained into the fabric of company practices.
In addition to pointing out areas where women are underrepresented, the study also looks at cultural elements of companies that create barriers to women seeking to improve their work conditions. Women, for example, often suffer from subtly aggressive behavior often intended to demean them. In fact, two-thirds of women claim that microaggressions are a workplace reality.
Some discriminatory behavior stems from ignorance, but there are those who use commonplace discrimination like mistakenly assuming a coworker is more junior than they really are to intentionally belittle a person. In some cases, microaggressive discrimination is as overt as saying something demeaning. Black women, in particular, deal with a greater variety of microaggressions, according to the study.
But black women aren’t the only minority who suffer greatly, as 71% of lesbian women have reported dealing with microaggressions related to their lifestyle choices and the stigmas surrounding them.
Discriminatory speech tends to reinforce poor company cultures, but it’s not the worst reality women have to face in the workplace. According to the study, “35% of women in corporate America experience sexual harassment at some point in their careers, from hearing sexist jokes to being touched in a sexual way.”
The harassment numbers change depending on the field of work. Certain workplace situations have much higher percentages of harassment. 55% of women in senior leadership, for example, report being sexually harassed. Additionally, 48% of lesbian women, and 45% of women in technical fields report the same.
The key finding in these numbers is that the less a woman conforms to her gender norms—like holding authority, being lesbian, and working in male-dominated fields—the more likely she is to be harassed. This again reinforces the idea that a lot of female issues stem from ill-conceived stigmas held by members of an organization.
While 98% of companies have policies that make it clear sexual harassment is not tolerated, many employees think their companies fall short of executing those policies in a meaningful way. Only 62% of employees say that their companies reaffirmed their sexual harassment policy within the last year. Moreover, only 60% believe that their harassment claim would be fairly investigated and addressed by their company.
There’s a disparity among men and women on these numbers as well, with 32% of women saying that disrespectful behavior toward women is often quickly addressed by the company and 50% of men saying the same.
These numbers are indicative of a need within companies to reaffirm and strengthen their harassment policies. It’s imperative to open channels of communication through which female employees can express their concerns and issues about the sexual advances of their coworkers. Only when communication flows freely and appropriate action is taken will the issue be fairly addressed.
Finally, the study takes a look at women who live in situations where they are “Onlys.” 20% women say they are often the only, or one of the only, women in the room or in a meeting. Women who are commonly in those situations are at greater risk of harassment and microaggressions. It’s even worse for senior executives, as 40% say they are often the only woman in the room.
“I joke that I chose a career where there’s no line for the bathroom,” says Kate Mitchell, co-founder of Scale Venture Partners, a venture-capital firm in the San Francisco Bay Area. “Decisions get made in the men’s room,” she says. “Do you follow them into the men’s room? Do you put your ear against the wall? Many times, it was easy to hear and so when they came out, I’d just start up the conversation where they’d left off.”