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Women at work: Data suggests workplace equality has hit a road block

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Hong Kong women face a lot of difficulty combining family with professional commitments. But what’s the situation in other places? McKinsey & Company’s 2017 USA survey of women in the workplace suggests that progress may be stalling. And one of the reasons is men don’t see a problem.

For theDesk, it’s about building inclusive communities. We investigated the key findings to discover whether the situation is the same or different from our own.

theDesk Sai Wan

Roadblock to progress

The annual US survey from McKinsey & Company shows that more companies are committing to gender equality. But women remain under-represented at all levels of corporate life.

And high-level commitments don’t necessarily translate into overall improvements for women. In fact, the report suggests that progress may even be stalling.

McKinsey’s data indicate the lack of progress is mainly due to one simple reason: many of us are blind to diversity issues. After all, we don’t solve problems that we don’t recognise clearly or even understand.

It seems that many employees believe that the situation is OK. And there is some truth to this. Women today have more opportunities and a higher level of equality than ever before.

Read more: Recent survey shows family and work commitments continue to hold women back

Many think that we have reached a state of equality and that women are well-represented in leadership. But in reality, they see only a few. Many men have become comfortable with the status quo and don’t feel any great urgency for further change.

Historically, the drive for equal working rights for women has prioritised empowering women and changing mindsets at a higher level; for example, through legal means, media representation and at corporate policy. Many men don’t grasp the barriers that hold women back at work. They feel less committed to gender diversity. And to achieve the ultimate goal of 100% parity between male and female employees, we need to get men on board.

In the US, women are typically 18% less likely to get a promotion than their male peers.

Staggered start

In the USA, from the very beginning of working life women are hired less, despite 57% of women having better educational qualifications than male counterparts.

And as women develop their careers, the situation only gets worse. Women are under-represented at every step. Women get promoted less, and the biggest gap is the step up to management level. The survey shows US women are typically 18% less likely to get a promotion than their male peers.

If women had the same rate of promotion to senior positions as men, the number of women at these ranks would more than double.

Some people argue that one reason for this lack of sustained progress is that women and men have different intentions for staying in the workplace. The survey results tell us that this is just not true: 60% of all employees – male and female – are planning to stay with their companies for five or more years.

Others argue that women aren’t as hungry for promotion as men. But, again, the survey shows this is false. Women are equally as interested, but employers pass them by.

For employees planning to leave, 80% intend to find a new job elsewhere but keep in the workforce.

It’s interesting to note that equal numbers of men and women say they’ll leave to focus on family. But the number for both genders is incredibly low, at 2% or less.

Given these data, it’s not surprising women are less optimistic about their career prospects. They are less likely than men to aspire to executive positions. And even those who aspire feel they are significantly less likely to climb to the top of the ladder.

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Perception filter

Women and men see the situation differently. Men tend to think the workplace has already become a level playing field. Women, on the other hand, see the workplace as far less fair and offering them less support. This is especially true for mothers and women re-entering the workplace after maternity leave.

Almost 50% of men think women are well represented in leadership positions.But only one in ten senior leaders are women.

The report indicates 15% of men think that further efforts towards gender equality will make it harder for them to advance. No surprise, then, that men feel far less committed to efforts which they feel disadvantage them.

McKinsey’s survey highlights the critical need for companies to understand better the real issues affecting women. The authors suggest companies need to do more to tackle their ‘pain points’ directly.

Especially important is getting ‘sufficient buy-in from men’, making sure that men understand that equality benefits all of us.

The authors conclude that when people rise to the top because of their talent – and not gender, appearance, culture or ethnicity – everyone ends of winning.

The Mckinsey & Company report was published in October 2017. The survey was conducted by LeanIn and McKinsey. Read the full 2017 report and a summary of findings on their website.


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