bulletproof glass ceilings

Corporate America: Here's Why Your Rising Female Stars Likely Won't Become Your CEO

Far fewer women start on the path to leadership–and they continue to lose ground with every step

PALO ALTO, Calif., Sept. 30, 2016 /PRNewswire/ — Today McKinsey & Company and LeanIn.Org released Women in the Workplace 2016, a comprehensive annual study of the state of women in corporate America.

The study finds that women fall behind early and face ever-greater challenges the more senior they become.

Women are less likely to receive the first critical promotion to manager—so far fewer end up on the path to leadership—and they are less likely to be hired into more senior positions. As a result, the higher you look in companies, the fewer women you see.

“When women are stuck, corporate America is stuck,” said Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook COO and founder of LeanIn.Org. “We know that diverse teams perform better and inclusive workplaces are better for all employees, so we all have strong incentives to get this right.”

The Women in the Workplace 2016 report is part of an ongoing partnership between McKinsey & Company and LeanIn.Org to give companies the information they need to promote female leadership and foster gender equality in the workplace. The study is based on pipeline data and information on human resources practices from 132 companies that employ more than 4.6 million people, including Visa, MetLife, JPMorgan Chase & Co., Procter & Gamble, Facebook, and General Motors. In addition, more than 34,000 employees completed a survey designed to explore their experiences regarding gender, opportunity, career, and work-life issues. The study builds on the Women in the Workplace 2015 report and a baseline study of sixty companies conducted by McKinsey & Company in 2012.

What’s holding women back?

“To accelerate progress on gender parity, we first must understand what is holding women back,” said Dominic Barton, global managing partner of McKinsey & Company. “This study seeks to do exactly that. It provides companies with both industry benchmarks and data on their own talent pipeline and employees’ work experiences. These insights will help companies drive bolder and more effective solutions.”

Contrary to conventional wisdom, this year’s study found that women negotiate for promotions and raises as often as men, but face pushback when they do. They are far more likely than men who negotiate to receive feedback that they are “intimidating,” “too aggressive,” or “bossy.”

Women also receive informal feedback less frequently than men—despite asking for it as often—and have less access to senior-level sponsors. So not surprisingly, women are almost three times more likely than men to think their gender will make it harder to get a raise, promotion, or chance to get ahead.

When women are stuck, corporate America is stuck.

The study found that, compared to white women, women of color face the most barriers and experience the steepest drop-offs with seniority despite having higher aspirations for becoming a top executive. Women of color also report they get less access to opportunities and see a workplace that is less fair and inclusive. They are 9% less likely to say they’ve received a challenging new assignment, 21% less likely to think the best opportunities go to the most deserving employees, and 10% less likely to feel comfortable being themselves as work.

Although company commitment to gender diversity is at an all-time high, companies are struggling to put their commitment into practice. Less than half of employees say their company is doing what it takes to improve diversity, and many employees do not see gender diversity as a personal priority.

The report identifies concrete steps companies can take to advance their gender diversity efforts. They can make a stronger case for gender diversity, explaining why it matters and how it benefits everyone. They can also ensure their hiring, promotion, and performance review polices are fair, and invest in training so employees know the steps they can take to promote gender diversity. And they can place more emphasis on accountability and set gender targets so it’s easier to track and make progress.

The complete Women in the Workplace 2016 report, including detailed findings and recommendations, is available here. From the website, organizations can download the report and sign up to participate in this ongoing research.

Quotes from participating CEOs

  • Jamie Dimon, CEO of JPMorgan Chase & Co.
    “At JPMorgan Chase, we foster a diverse and inclusive workplace where everyone can thrive. We believe it’s not only the smart thing to do, it’s the right thing to do and it’s also good for business. We’ve implemented a number of initiatives aimed at helping make sure women advance and achieve their career goals at our company. This study will help us continue to build on the momentum we’ve attained.”
  • Charles Scharf, CEO of Visa
    “At Visa, advancing diversity and inclusion is a strategic imperative. Data from this Women in the Workplace study has reaffirmed the reality that there is still a lot more work to be done in both investing in and advancing women in the workplace. Dialogue is critical, along with swift action. As one of several initiatives we have in place to advance this discussion, Visa recently joined a consortium that brings together companies who are as committed as we are to addressing the issues around equal pay to ensure the right questions are being asked.”
  • David Taylor, Chairman, President, and Chief Executive Officer of Procter & Gamble
    “We aspire to create a better world for everyone—a world free of gender bias with equal representation and an equal voice for women and men. This begins inside our own company, where we’re striving for equal representation for women and men at all levels and building an inclusive culture where everyone can contribute to their full potential. We seek insights that can shed light and inspire action to achieve gender equality—inside our workplace and more broadly in the world.”

Key findings

  • For every 100 women promoted to manager, 130 men are promoted
    Promotion rates for women lag behind those of men, and the disparity is the largest at the first step up to manager. As a result, far fewer women end up on the path to leadership.
  • Very few women are in line to become CEO
    By the time women reach the SVP level, they hold just 20% of line roles, and line roles lead more directly to the C-suite: In 2015, 90% of new CEOs in the S&P 500 were promoted or hired from line roles.
  • Women experience an uneven playing field
    Women get less access to the people and opportunities that advance careers and are disadvantaged in many of their daily interactions. These inequities appear to take a toll on women: They are less likely to think they have equal opportunities for growth and development—and more likely to think their gender will play a role in missing out on a raise, promotion, or chance to get ahead.
  • Women of color have higher leadership aspirations, but face more barriers
    Compared to white women, women of color have higher aspirations to become a top executive but get less access to opportunities for growth and advancement. They also see a workplace that is less fair and inclusive. In all cases, Black women appear to be the most disadvantaged.
  • Women are negotiating as often as men—but face pushback when they do
    Women who negotiate for a promotion or compensation increase are 30% more likely than men who negotiate to receive feedback that they are “bossy,” “too aggressive,” or “intimidating.”
  • Women get less access to senior leaders
    Women and men both view sponsorship by senior leaders as essential for success. Yet women report fewer substantive interactions with senior leaders than their male counterparts do—and this gap widens as women and men advance.
  • Women ask for feedback as often as men—but are less likely to receive it
    Despite asking for informal feedback as often as men do, women report they receive it less frequently. Moreover, there appears to be a disconnect in the way managers convey difficult feedback. Most managers say they rarely hesitate to give difficult feedback to both women and men, but women report they receive it less frequently.
  • Women are less interested in becoming top executives—and see the pros and cons of senior leadership differently
    Only 40% of women are interested in becoming top executives, compared to 56% of men. Women and men worry equally about work-life balance and company politics. However, women with and without children are more likely to say they don’t want the pressure, and women who want a top job anticipate a steeper path than men who do.
  • Companies are highly committed to gender diversity, but struggling to put it into practice
    Less than half of employees think their company is doing what it takes to improve gender diversity. In addition, less than a third of employees say senior leaders regularly communicate the importance of gender diversity and are held accountable for making progress.
  • There are steps companies can take to promote gender equality
    Although there’s no “one size fits all” solution, the report identifies steps companies can take to advance gender equality: make a compelling case for gender diversity; ensure hiring, promotions, and reviews are fair; invest in more employee training; and focus on accountability and results.




About LeanIn.Org
LeanIn.Org is the nonprofit organization founded by Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg to empower all women to achieve their ambitions. LeanIn.Org offers inspiration and support through an online community, free education materials, and Lean In Circles, small peer groups that meet regularly to learn and grow together. The LeanIn.Org community now encompasses more than 1.2 million women and men and 29,000 Lean In Circles in more than 150 countries. LeanIn.Org is a private operating non-profit organization under IRS section 501(c)(3).
About McKinsey & Company
McKinsey & Company is a global management consulting firm, deeply committed to helping institutions in the private, public, and social sectors achieve lasting success. For more than eight decades, the firm’s primary objective has been to serve as our clients’ most trusted external advisor. With consultants in more than one hundred offices in sixty countries, across industries and functions, McKinsey & Company brings unparalleled expertise to clients anywhere in the world, working closely with teams at all levels of an organization to shape winning strategies, mobilize for change, build capabilities, and drive successful execution.