Women in the Workplace 2022: One Step Forward. Two Steps Back.

We have to stop the leaking pipeline. Women at all levels are walking away.

The 2022 LeanIn.org and McKinsey & Company “Women in the Workplace” report is another somber and sobering look at the state of women in corporate America. While the current report focuses on “how the pandemic has changed what women want from their companies, including the growing importance of opportunity, flexibility, employee well-being, and diversity, equity, and inclusion,” the bottom line is that women haven’t advanced much since this study began in 2015.

In the next two articles, I will delve into two findings from the research and offer suggestions on actionable steps organizations can take immediately to retain (and advance) talent. These issues mirror exactly the challenges I am speaking to my clients about. Believe it or not, we have largely solved recruitment in many industries. We can get women and other under-represented groups into the organization. The new challenge is retention. And most companies are still getting it wrong.

The “Great Breakup”

The study found that women at all levels are walking away. Some are pursuing opportunities at other companies, others are starting their own companies and some women are opting out entirely.

There are three key reasons for the departures.

  1. Though just as ambitious as men, women face headwinds that make it harder to advance.
  • Harassment and microaggressions
  • Having their judgment questioned
  • Being mistaken for someone junior

2. Women are doing more than men to support employee well-being, inclusion, diversity and equity and feel spread thin by this important yet unrewarded work.

3. Women want to work for companies that prioritize flexibility, employee well-being and diversity, equity and inclusion.

The study noted that women early in their careers are committed and ambitious and when they see senior women leaving an organization, they are prepared to do the same.

With women leaving companies at increasing rates this leaves the pipeline of available talent severely diminished at all levels of the organization.

Not surprisingly, the results from the LeanIn and  McKinsey & Company studies track with recent findings from Deloitte and Gartner about women at work and post-Covid 19 work trends. I wrote about those studies here. As the Deloitte study found, when women were asked what their employers could do to advance gender equality at work, the highest-ranking action was to provide a respectful and inclusive workplace culture. This single element does not cost a company a single penny and yet it could be the best way to drive retention.

Course Correct with Empathy

The women (and let’s face it, everyone!) on your team are dealing with multiple stress points. As a manager, it’s critical to take the time to listen and learn about the experiences and obstacles your employees face. This understanding is critical before taking action. Depending on the size of your team, ERG or organization, consider utilizing a survey to gauge the issues your members are struggling with today.

Here’s a survey I use with clients (click here to download the PDF questions). Edit these questions to make them relevant to your organization. Once the survey is complete, consider the following next steps:

  • Share the results with senior leaders.
  • Pick one or two key points and ask leaders to address them with the organization, focusing on how to better support their teams.
  • Host a webinar that covers how employees can manage key issues most effectively.

If you manage a smaller team, consider using these questions as a guide during your 1:1 sessions with team members.

This is a critical time for leaders to speak and act on their values. Your employees do not forget what you do and say in a crisis, and it will be remembered longer and more vividly than what you did and said during “normal” times.

This moment calls for each of us to become better listeners and hone our empathy skills. I encourage you to take the opportunity to listen to women’s experiences in your organization and use their feedback to make adjustments and course corrections.

Recognize and Reward DEI Work

It is imperative to recognize and acknowledge those people in your organization who are doing DEI work and supporting this vital work. How difficult is it to add a section in performance reviews about ERG work, internal committee participation and leadership and other tasks that an employee takes on in support of organizational goals and initiatives? Make an appointment with HR today in order to champion this change. Better yet, talk to your immediate manager to ensure it is included in your performance management plan.

Address Microaggressions and Create an Inclusive Culture

Are you looking for actionable steps that you can take to advocate for change in your organization? I’ve developed a series of actions that men and women at any level in their organization can take to drive change.

Check out my 10 Actions for Advocates. Download, print, and hang this in your workspace. This single act demonstrates to colleagues that they can approach you as a coach, mentor, sponsor and concerned co-worker. It also serves as a reminder that every action –– big or small –– moves us toward a more equitable future.

Change is possible. It will happen one step at a time – if we take those steps on a daily basis. In my next article, I will focus on the leaky pipeline and the resulting “One step forward, two steps back” phenomenon.