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It’s International Women’s Day, so Let’s Talk About Women in the Workplace

Women continue to be vastly underrepresented at every level, especially in the workplace. Companies continuously report a commitment to increasing diversity, but that commitment has yet to translate into meaningful progress.

Women in the Workplace 2018 is the largest comprehensive study of the state of women in corporate America. Leanin.org and McKinsey & Company have published this report annually since 2015.

For their latest report, 279 companies employing more than 13 million people completed a survey and provided data to researchers. In addition, more than 64,000 employees were surveyed on their workplace experiences.

Here are a few interesting tidbits we learned from the 2018 report:

  • Only about 1 in 15 C-suite leaders is a woman, and only 1 in 25 is a woman of color
  • Women earn more bachelor degrees than men, but are less likely to be hired into entry-level jobs
  • We to overestimate men’s performance and underestimate women’s. This means men are often hired and promoted based on their potential, and women are often hired and promoted based on their track-record.
  • Compared to entry level men, women at the same level are less likely to have managers showcase their work and help them navigate organizational politics.
  • Women get less access to senior leaders, yet employees who interact regularly with senior leaders are more likely to ask for and receive promotions, stay at their companies, and aspire to be leaders.
  • Women face everyday discrimination: for 64% of women, microaggressions are a workplace reality.
    • For example, women have to provide more evidence of their competence than men, and they are more likely to have their judgment questioned in their area of expertise.
    • They are also more than twice as likely as men to have been mistaken for someone in a more junior position.
    • 71% of lesbian women have dealt with microagressions including demeaning remarks made about them or others like them. They are also far more likely to feel they cannot talk about their personal lives at work.
    • Women who experience microagressions at their workplace are more likely to view their employers as unfair and are three times more likely to regularly think about leaving their job.

Don’t Forget about Sexual Harassment

  • 35% of women in corporate America experience sexual harassment at some point in their careers.
    • 55% of women in leadership roles have experienced sexual harassment
    • 48% of lesbian women have experienced sexual harassment
    • 45% of women in technical fields have experienced sexual harassment
  • 98% of companies have policies that make it clear that sexual harassment is not tolerated, but many employees feel that their company is not putting policy into practice.
  • Only 60% of employees feel that a sexual harassment claim made at their company will be fairly investigated and addressed; and only 32% of employees feel it will be addressed quickly.

The report states, “It is important to note that the prevalence of sexual harassment reported in this research may be lower than what some working women experience. This survey focuses on full-time employees in the corporate sector versus the full economy, and given the nature of sexual harassment, it is often underreported.”

The Uneven Playing Field

  • One in five women say they are often the only woman or one of the only women in the room at work. The report calls these women the “Onlys.”
  • Over 80% of women identified as “Onlys” are on the receiving end of microagressions, and they are almost twice as likely to have been sexually harassed at some point in their careers.
    • 45% of women of color and 37% of men of color are often the only one of their race or ethnicity in the room.
    • 76% of lesbian women and 70% of gay men are often the only one of their sexual orientation in the room.
  • Women are three times more likely than men to think that their gender has played a role in a missed raise, promotion, or other chance to get ahead.
    • Nearly a third of women of color—and half of Black women—think their race has played a part in missed opportunities and will make it harder for them to advance in the workplace.
  • Women are negotiating for raises and promotions as often as men, however, women are less likely to get promoted, and are on average paid less than men in similar roles.


Leanin.org and McKinsey & Company recommend six actions for companies to take to begin to address gender diversity:

1. Get the basics right—targets, reporting, and accountability

Setting goals, tracking progress, sharing results, and holding employees to account are basic business practices. While some diversity strategies are more complicated to implement than others, these are relatively clear-cut steps that companies can—and should—take.

2. Ensure that hiring and promotions are fair

Many companies track outcomes in hiring to check for gender bias, which is a good start. But far fewer track the compounding effect of gender and racial bias, which disadvantages women of color. And companies are far less likely to track bias in performance reviews—for example, to see if women’s communication styles are criticized more often than men’s—yet performance reviews play a major role in who gets promoted and who doesn’t.

3. Make senior leaders and managers champions of diversity

Until leaders at all levels understand the problem, are trained to help solve it, and are held accountable for making progress—in other words, until companies require that leaders treat gender diversity like any other business imperative—it will be hard to achieve lasting change.

4. Foster an inclusive and respectful culture

Companies should develop clear guidelines for what collegial and respectful behavior looks like—as well as unacceptable and uncivil behavior. To be treated seriously, these guidelines must be supported by a clear reporting process and swift consequences for disrespectful behavior. Companies should also hold periodic refreshers to drive the guidelines home and make sure all employees understand them.

5. Make the “Only” experience rare

Companies should take steps to reduce the number of women who are the only one in the room—and who feel isolated and under pressure as a result… Building an inclusive and respectful workplace pays dividends when it comes to women Onlys. Across races and ethnicities, women Onlys have higher ambitions to be a top executive than other women. But they are also more likely to think about leaving their company. By making these driven employees’ experiences more fulfilling and less isolating, companies are more likely to retain them. That would be a win for everyone.

6. Offer employees the flexibility to fit work into their lives

A majority of companies offer employees some flexibility to ease work-life friction, such as the ability to work part-time or telecommute. But fewer companies address the unique challenges faced by parents. Less than two-thirds of companies offer maternity leave beyond what’s required by law, and just over half offer fathers the same benefit. Far fewer companies have programs designed to ease employee transitions to and from extended leave, even though those periods can be particularly challenging for employees and their families. And ongoing support for parents—like subsidized or on-site child care—is still uncommon. Programs like these make a difference: it’s easier to focus on your job when you know that your children are well cared for.

For more information, please contact your Poms & Associates HR Risk Manager at 505-369-3454 or email us at pomsconnects@pomsassoc.com