It (Still) Stinks to be a Woman in Corporate

McKinsey, in conjunction with Sheryl Sandberg's LeanIn.Org (She's the Chief Operating Officer of Facebook), has just released a new analysis quantifying the progress of women in corporate America.

On the current pace of female advancement in industry, the U.S. will have 250 women as CEOs of Fortune 500 companies 100 years from today.

The analysis sheds some interesting light.

First, the big conclusion: gender bias exists and seems likely to continue to exist in the short run.

Outside of entry-level jobs where gender equality is closest to equal, at every job level past entry-level, all the way to CEO, there are fewer women in those roles. In addition, when you look at promotion rates at every level past entry-level, women are 15% less likely to get promoted.

In other words, the U.S. doesn't have a "not enough women as CEOs" problem. It has a "not enough women at EVERY level of the company" problem.

McKinsey's recommendation, which is similar to what I recommend to clients when trying to solve any kind of business problem, is straight forward.

First, measure gender equality (number of male/ female resumes vs. job offers, number of male/female managers vs. promotions, etc.)

Second, build awareness amongst managers and executives about unconscious gender bias and how to compensate for it.

For example, men and women perceive an assertive man in a positive light, but an assertive woman in a negative one.

Another example: when a man succeeds, he is assumed to be competent. When a woman succeeds, she tends to be perceived (and in my experience, often perceives herself) as having gotten lucky.

If one is aware of these natural tendencies, a simple test for any conclusion around job performance is to ask yourself, "If I changed this person's gender, would I change my conclusion?"

In addition, many men (and women) tend to judge a person's competence based in part on their verbal confidence. The problem with this is that as a group, men tend to be overconfident relative to their actual skills, and women under-confident. If you aren't aware of this, you will make errors in judging the competence of your staff.

If you are a woman or you expect to be in a position where you have women as direct reports, it's worth reading the McKinsey report. While the report is based on U.S. companies, my limited qualitative experience is these trends do cross over into other cultures and economies.

To read the full McKinsey report, Click Here.


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