How can employers improve gender diversity in the workplace? It starts with tracking representation and setting goals for diversity when hiring and promoting employees.
“Progress for women isn’t just slow― it’s stalled,” reads the alarming introduction to LeanIn’s latest report, Women in the Workplace 2018. In the three years they’ve been studying the issue, corporate America has made almost no progress in how women fare.
Hiring is one of biggest drivers of gender representation in the workplace and automated recruitment systems aren’t helping: Even machine learning algorithms are gender biased because what they search for in potential hires is based on historic data, which in most cases favors male candidates.
Women are less likely to be hired at the manager level and they’re far less likely to be promoted into management positions. LeanIn’s research shows for every 100 men promoted to manager, there are less than 80 women promoted. As a result, more than 60 percent of men hold managerial positions compared to less than 40 percent of women.
The study offers “performance bias” as a potential explanation to early gaps in hiring and promoting women. Research on “performance bias” found men are often hired and promoted based on their potential, while women are often hired and promoted based on their track record. “One thing I’ve become used to is having to prove myself constantly, over and over. It’s tiring, and unfortunately, it hasn’t changed a whole lot as I’ve become more senior,” says a Latina woman who is a senior executive with 4 years at the company.
Although it’s commonly thought that women are underrepresented in management because they leave to focus on family, LeanIn found that women and men leave their jobs in similar numbers. Most men and women plan to stay in the workforce when they leave their company. Less than 5 percent of women plan to leave the workforce to focus on family.
If companies start hiring and promoting women and men to manager at equal rates, the report estimates that the U.S. will get close to parity in management over the next 10 years. If employers continue hiring and promoting women at current rates, the number of women in management will increase by just one percentage point over the same ten years.
The underrepresentation of women in uppermanagement is so common it’s normalized. A director recalled a time when she pressed a button to the executive office and someone in the elevator pointed out what floor the interns were on, assuming she was mistaken. A lawyer remembered walking into negotiations she was leading and an older man from the company asked her to take meeting notes.
Most companies say they’re highly committed to gender and racial diversity, but that runs counter to LeanIn’s research on the issue. Less than half of companies track representation and set targets to reach gender and racial diversity. Achieving gender and racial diversity requires more than lip service, it requires planning and careful consideration at each level.
Leaders at all levels need to, well, take the lead. In order to do that they need to understand the problem, receive training to help solve it and be held accountable for making consistent progress towards gender and racial diversity. It’s also up to leadership to foster an inclusive and respectful culture by developing guidelines supported by a clear reporting process and swift consequences for violations.
“Closing the corporate gender gap isn’t a side issue. It’s an economic necessity. Programs and policies designed to reduce bias and ensure fairness don’t just benefit women. They benefit everyone,” the report’s conclusion reads.