A year and a half into the COVID-19 pandemic, women have made important gains in representation, and especially in senior leadership. But the pandemic continues to take a toll. Women are now significantly more burned out-and increasingly more so than men.
Despite this added stress and exhaustion, women are rising to the moment as stronger leaders and taking on the extra work that comes with this: compared to men at the same level, women are doing more to support their teams and advance diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts. They are also more likely than men to practice allyship. Yet this critical work is going unrecognized and unrewarded by most companies, and that has concerning implications. Companies risk losing the very leaders they need right now, and it's hard to imagine organizations navigating the pandemic and building inclusive workplaces if this work isn't truly prioritized.
There is also a disconnect between companies' growing commitment to racial equity and the lack of improvement we see in the day-to-day experiences of women of color. Women of color face similar types and relative frequencies of microaggressions as they did two years ago-and they remain far more likely than white women to be on the receiving end of disrespectful and "othering" behavior. And while more white employees see themselves as allies to women of color, they are no more likely than last year to speak out against discrimination, mentor or sponsor women of color, or take other actions to advocate for them.
The impact of the last year and half on women is still far from clear. But the risks to women-and the companies that depend on their leadership-are very real.
About This Report
Women made gains in representation last year, but burnout is still on the rise
In spite of the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic, women's representation had improved across most of the corporate pipeline at the end of 2020. This is an encouraging sign-and worth recognizing after an incredibly difficult year. But there are also persistent gaps in the pipeline: promotions at the first step up to manager3 are not equitable, and women of color lose ground in representation at every level.
There is still a "broken rung" at the first step up to manager. Since 2016, we have seen the same trend: women are promoted to manager at far lower rates than men, and this makes it nearly impossible for companies to lay a foundation for sustained progress at more senior levels. Additionally, the gains in representation for women overall haven't translated to gains for women of color. Women of color continue to lose ground at every step in the pipeline-between the entry level and the C-suite, the representation of women of color drops off by more than 75 percent. As a result, women of color account for only 4 percent of C-suite leaders, a number that hasn't moved significantly in the past three years.
The representation of women is only part of the story. The pandemic continues to take a toll on employees, and especially women. Women are even more burned out than they were a year ago, and burnout is escalating much faster among women than men. One in three women says they have considered downshifting their careers or leaving the workforce this year, compared to 1 in 4 who said this a few months into the pandemic.4 Additionally, 4 in 10 women have considered leaving their company or switching jobs-and high employee turnover in recent months suggests that many of them are following through.
McKinsey & Company and LeanIn.Org would like to thank the 423 companies and more than 65,000 employees who participated in this year's study. By sharing their information and insights, they've given us new visibility into the state of women in the workplace and the steps companies can take to achieve gender equality.