27 September 2023

Running on empty: Has progress on workplace gender diversity stalled?

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Tarla Lambert* says new research shows progress on improving workplace gender diversity and equality has stalled.

This has been a year of stagnation on workplace gender diversity, according to new US research from McKinsey.

Women in the Workplace 2018, a study conducted in partnership with LeanIn.org, drew on data from 279 organisations employing 13 million individuals, as well as a series of qualitative interviews and survey findings from 64,000 of those workers.

The results showed that although women continue to surpass their male counterparts on education, ask for pay-rises and promotions at the same rate and stay in the workplace for just as long, they are still routinely overlooked.

Women remain grossly underrepresented and this is amplified even more when it comes to women of colour.

It has never been more necessary for progressive employers to act purposefully and decisively to shift the dial.

So what can be done?

Hiring and promotions overhaul

Working toward true diversity and gender equal representation requires a meaningful examination of hiring and promotions processes.

Despite more women graduating university than men, women are still less likely to be hired into entry-level positions.

They are also far less likely to be hired into managerial positions, and their odds reduce even more significantly when it comes to promotions into these roles.

Because of this, men currently hold 62 per cent of manager positions.

If this trend continues, the number of female managers will increase by just 1 percentage point over the next decade, but if hiring and promotions are awarded at equal rates, 48 per cent women and 52 per cent men will hold managerial positions within the same time frame.

It’s up to employers to start thinking differently and acting fast.

Acting on everyday discrimination

Some alarming trends emerged from McKinsey’s findings, including: bullying, sexual harassment, and abuse of power.

Almost two thirds of women reported that micro-aggressions were a workplace reality.

One commonly cited example was being forced to prove their competency more intensely than men as well as being mistaken for a junior employee at twice the rate as their male counterparts.

Lesbian women are significantly more likely to hear demeaning remarks about themselves at work and are far less likely to talk about their personal lives.

Another stark finding showed that 35 per cent of women in corporate America had experienced sexual harassment at some point during their career.

This increased to 55 per cent for women in senior leadership, 48 per cent for lesbian women and 45 per cent for women in technical roles.

This trend is patent: women who do not conform to typical feminine ideals are more likely to be subjected to sexual harassment and assault.

While a growing number of employers boast strict “no tolerance” policies on sexual harassment, only 60 per cent of employees felt that sexual harassment claims would be appropriately dealt with by their employer.

It’s up to HR teams and direct managers to offer comprehensive training for employees and rigorous support mechanisms for victims.

An audit process would likewise ensure that reports were acted on quickly and investigations thorough.

Eliminating ‘The Only’ experience for women

Women experience feeling like “the only one” at a high rate in the corporate workplace.

This includes incidents like “the only woman in the boardroom”, “the only woman on the panel”, and “the only woman in the interview”.

Women who are in this position are facing greater obstacles than women who work with other women.

For example, more than 80 per cent reported being on the receiving end of micro-aggressions, compared with 64 per cent as a whole.

Most worryingly, women “Onlys” are almost twice as likely to have been sexually harassed at some point in their careers.

Where women are isolated in roles, employers should make a conscious and speedy effort to diversify the sector quickly.

Quotas may assist in this instance.

* Tarla Lambert is the publisher of Women’s Agenda. She tweets at @tarla_lambert.

This article first appeared at womensagenda.com.au.

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