Women in the workplace: Stats that debunk myths

In our quest to reshape the corporate world, understanding the realities women face is crucial. A recent McKinsey report offers invaluable insights, debunking some of the more common myths about women in the workplace with compelling data.

Senior women leaders are constantly navigating the complexities of male-centric corporate landscapes. While great headway has been made in terms of highlighting unconscious gender bias and creating a more transparent recruitment process for C-suite positions, there are still several myths surrounding women in the workplace that are seriously hindering progress. 

Let’s delve into these misconceptions and explore how we can change the narrative. 

Myth 1: Diminishing Ambition Among Women

A popular opinion among hiring managers is that women aren’t getting senior jobs because they ‘don’t want them enough’.  

The reality is that women’s ambition is stronger than ever, especially since the pandemic.  

McKinsey’s report reveals that women are just as ambitious as men, with women of color showing even greater ambition. Remarkably, 90% of young women surveyed aim for the next level, and 75% aspire to senior leadership.  

How to Change the Narrative

  • Recognize and nurture ambition: It isn’t enough for organizations to say ‘yes’ to women who are qualified for promotion. Leaders need to actively recognize and nurture the ambitions of female talent through targeted development programs and coaching opportunities.
  • Promote gender-inclusive policies: The ‘Old Boys Club’ still exists because policies are out of date and no longer relevant to today’s environment. Companies need to implement policies that equally support the career aspirations of all employees, regardless of gender.
  • Create opportunities for advancement: Many women become stuck at a certain level because men traditionally occupy the jobs they’re qualified to move up into. Organizations need to ensure that women have equal access to career advancement opportunities, including challenging projects and leadership roles.

For every 100 men promoted to manager, only 87 women achieve the same opportunity. This gap is even wider for women of color.

Myth 2: The 'Glass Ceiling' as the Primary Barrier

The glass ceiling has always been heralded as the ultimate blocker for women reaching the top, but the ‘broken rung’ at the manager level poses a greater challenge.  

The report highlights a stark disparity: for every 100 men promoted to manager, only 87 women achieve the same opportunity. This gap is even wider for women of color (73 women of color promoted per 100 men)​​. 

“In my 35 years of working life, I have encountered the highest attrition among women at middle management level,” says WeQual Alumni Hina Nagarajan, MD and CEO of beverage manufacturing giant Diageo India. She attributes this to several factors, including unconscious bias due to fears women may leave to have children, and the assumption that women take on a greater domestic burden, leaving them less available to progress.  

This can perpetuate a cycle, leaving women stuck at the ‘broken rung’ level, or worse, leaving an organization altogether. “Lack of progression kills ambition, and women develop a mindset of: I’m not moving up, I may as well leave and spend time at home,” Hina adds. 

How to Change the Narrative

  • Address the broken rung: Leaders should look at all their employees’ career paths holistically, ensuring there are equal promotion opportunities available for women every step of the way.
  • Monitor promotion processes: Any biases, conscious or unconscious, can be rectified by implementing a transparent and fair promotion process.
  • Leadership development: Access to coaching and development for leadership positions should be widely available to all. 

Myth 3: Microaggressions Have a Minor Impact

Microaggressions have a significant impact on women’s careers and well-being.  

Here’s the reality: Women are twice as likely to experience interruptions during meetings and discussions, as well as being twice as likely to receive comments on their emotional state.  

These repeated slights contribute to a lack of psychological safety, stifling innovation and risk-taking. Women facing microaggressions are three times more likely to consider quitting and four times more likely to experience burnout​​. 

How to Change the Narrative

  • Awareness and education: Leaders should educate all employees about microaggressions and their impact, fostering an environment where respectful communication is the norm.
  • Encourage reporting and action: Create a safe and supportive system for reporting microaggressions and ensure prompt and effective zero-tolerance action is taken against such behaviors.
  • Cultivate an inclusive culture: Foster a culture of inclusion and diversity where different perspectives are valued, and employees feel safe to voice their opinions. 

Myth 4: Flexibility Only Benefits Women in the Workplace

Let’s face it, women are often the primary caregivers for children and elderly parents, but if you’re thinking that flexible working is a ‘soft’ benefit, it’s not. In fact, flexible work is a top benefit for both men and women.  

Most employees, regardless of gender, value the ability to control their schedules and work remotely. This flexibility is often valued even above traditional benefits like parental leave​​. 

According to Hina, beyond supporting work-life balance, flexible working provides a critical support mechanism for both men and women to progress in their careers.  “I have personally benefited from the fact that my husband moved to a profession where he had more flexibility,” she shares.  

“This enabled me to travel or work long hours, while he took time to be with the children at home or attend things like Parent-Teacher meetings when required. Equally, at the time when he needed to grow in his career and even move abroad for a while, my flexibility really helped him to focus on his career and growth. In a world which is becoming increasingly nuclear family oriented, this will be a key success factor for corporations.” 

How to Change the Narrative

  • Broaden flexible work options: Offer flexible work options to all employees, not just women, to accommodate diverse needs and lifestyles.
  • Emphasize flexibility in corporate strategy: Recognize and integrate flexibility as a core component of the organization’s future success strategy.
  • Balance and Fairness: Ensure that flexible working arrangements do not lead to inequalities or biases in career advancement opportunities.

As leaders, we must use these insights to foster environments that support women’s ambitions, address early career disparities, confront microaggressions, and promote flexibility for all. By doing so, we can create a more equitable, thriving workplace for everyone. The journey towards equality is ongoing, but armed with data and a collective commitment, we can make significant strides. 

Together, let’s build a corporate world where every woman’s potential is recognized and nurtured. 

Thanks to our Guest Contributor:

Hina Nagarajan

MD & CEO Diageo India, and Member of the Diageo Global Executive Committee

Hina is also a long-term WeQual Executive and Winner of the WeQual Awards, EMEA 2019 in the Diversity and Inclusion category.