For the third year in a row, Lean In has released its Women in the Workplace study in partnership with McKinsey & Company, examining the state of women in corporate America.
This year, the organization honed in on the experiences of women of color in the corporate sector, using pipeline data from 222 companies that employ over 12 million people, to "understand why women of color are having a different experience" than their white colleagues, says Lean In president Rachel Thomas.
"Companies often overlook women of color, who are having a distinct challenge and face more barriers in the workplace," she continues. "There are biases because they're women, and biases because they're people of color, and companies really need to address that head on. They need to lift up all women if we're going to get to gender equality."
A key area that women of color face difficulty in is being seen as leaders. They were less likely than all other racial and ethnic groups surveyed to report getting support from managers, receiving opportunities to interact with senior leaders, and were less likely to be promoted.
The fact that the pipeline-to-promotion process can be skewed in terms of race and gender is something more companies are being forced to answer for. A recent feature in Wired revealed the impact of that in Silicon Valley, where "representation of white women in leadership roles improved by 17 percent between 2007 and 2015, whereas for all other minority groups, the percentage went down."
Thomas charged managers with addressing such discrepancies, noting that they make a lot of the day-to-day decisions that impact women's careers, like whether they get promoted, or whether they get that 'stretch' assignment.
"We need to get bias out of performance review sand hiring. We need employees to get unconscious bias training so they understand the pushback that women face on a daily basis. We need gender metrics in place," she said.
"If we're starting to get comfortable with the status quo — and it looks like we are — it's hard to imagine a groundswell of change."
Per Lean In's research, nearly 50% of men think women are well represented in leadership in companies where only one in 10 senior leaders is a woman. "When men look up at their organization and see one in 10 women in leadership roles, nearly half of them think women are well-represented, and women aren't that far behind. A third of women see one in 10 in leadership and think women are well represented," she notes. "And if we're starting to get comfortable with the status quo — and it looks like we are — it's hard to imagine a groundswell of change."
That mindset is backed up in many fields, including tech. A new study from Pew found that "roughly a third of men (32%) say discrimination against women is not a problem, compared with 17% of women." The difference in the perception of there being a problem at all is something Thomas finds "chagrining."
Far from putting that complacency on women, Thomas suggests that it's up to companies to really start instituting change from the top. She says that many women are already "leaning in." This year's study found that "women are just as interested in being promoted as men, and they ask for promotions at comparable rates. In fact, senior level women ask for promotions more often than senior-level men," McKinsey and Lean In found. "Despite this, women are still not advancing at the same pace as men. And external hiring is not making up the disparity in promotion rates."
This is, perhaps, unsurprising. A 2016 study of 4,600 workers in Australia found that women asked for more pay as often as men did, but they were 25% less likely to get it. The onus is on people with power to make real changes.
"It's really important than ever that women continue to 'lean in,' but this is really about what organizations can do," Thomas continues. "They need better policies and programs in place. They need to realize that the workplace is still focused in favor of men. They need to track their metrics for promotions, and share [that] with their organizations so they understand where women aren't being treated fairly. And, they need to set targets," she says. "You can't get to a goal if you don't set a clear target."
A lot of that effort will be on individual corporations more than ever. In August, the Trump administration announced that it would shut down the implementation of an Obama-era rule requiring employers with 100 or more employees to turn in data on wages to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), "with the goal of preventing pay discrimination."
Of course, it's not the most ideal situation that it's up to companies to act. But the least we can do is demand it from them.