Workplace

Why the Office Gender Gap Persists

Since #MeToo, many leaders have pledged to address inequities at the office. As a new report shows, it hasn’t always translated into action.

The gender gap at the office hasn’t gone away, and organizations aren’t implementing strategies that could address it.

Those are the two main takeaways from LeanIn.org’s latest Women in the Workplace report, released last week. In some ways, it’s not news that the gap persists. As ever, the percentage of women in senior leadership roles is disproportionate to that of men: They occupy only 26 percent of C-suite positions. Nor is it a surprise that many women leaders are sending a message to their organizations by walking away, either to a new job or out of the workforce. “For every woman at the director level who gets promoted to the next level, two women directors are choosing to leave their company,” according to the report. (The numbers are generally worse for women of color.)

What’s striking about this dismal, if familiar, news is LeanIn’s findings about the implementation piece: Despite roughly a half-decade or so of high-level, public conversations around #MeToo, DEI, microaggressions, broken rungs, glass cliffs, and issues that exacerbate the gender gap, traction has been subpar, and “companies are struggling to hold on to the relatively few women leaders they have,” according to the report.

For every woman at the director level who gets promoted, two women directors are choosing to leave.

One critical factor, the survey found, is middle management. That’s something I’ve written about before—as a group, they’ve been asked to do more in the pandemic era to help retain talent, without necessarily getting the guidance they need to assist around well-being, professional development, and inclusion. 

That’s borne out in LeanIn’s numbers. Less than half of companies (49 percent) train managers on how to make promotions fair and equitable. In addition, only 62 percent are trained on both checking in on employee well-being and reducing bias and microaggressions. A lot of that talk from the top about creating more equitable workplaces simply isn’t translating into an implementation plan.

“The shift to remote and hybrid work has made managers’ jobs more challenging. Yet relatively few companies are adequately training managers to meet these new demands,” according to the report. (Though the LeanIn report focuses on corporate America, the numbers are not appreciably better in nonprofitdom.)

What to do? Be more intentional around these issues, of course, though there’s more heat around legislating gender equity these days: Multiple states and a handful of municipalities, for instance, have enacted laws that require companies to be more transparent around salaries, both internally and during the hiring process. That does address the two key areas where companies are struggling, according to the LeanIn report: hiring and retention. 

But more specifically, according to the report, the rubber hits the road when it comes to promotions—those are the moments where the leadership pipeline in an organization becomes equitable or begins to block women from rising in their organizations. “Companies need to make sure women and men are put up for promotions at similar rates, monitor outcomes to make sure they’re equitable, and root out biased aspects of their evaluation process,” the LeanIn report recommends.

That’s not easy, especially for organizations that aren’t used to doing that. (And many, apparently, aren’t.) But beyond the talk about creating more equitable organizations, organizations would do well to recognize those particular moments that, handled poorly, can lead to the loss of your best people.

What does your organization do to encourage equitable hiring and retention practices? Share your experiences in the comments.

(Koh Sze Kiat/iStock/Getty Images)

Mark Athitakis

By Mark Athitakis

Mark Athitakis, a contributing editor for Associations Now, has written on nonprofits, the arts, and leadership for a variety of publications. He is a coauthor of The Dumbest Moments in Business History and hopes you never qualify for the sequel. MORE

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