Some way to go for parity for Women in the Workplace says McKinsey report

Women in the Workplace report outlines steps companies can take to fix their broken rung, which is denying women progress in their careers.

The glass ceiling remains in US corporate culture due to a ‘broken rung’ at the step up to manager, according to the latest Women in the Workplace report from consultants McKinsey and Lean In – the global community dedicated to helping women achieve their ambitions.

Women – and particularly women of colour are – underrepresented at every level the report reveals. It also outlines steps companies can take to fix their broken rung, which is denying women progress in the workplace.

Women in the Workplace recommendations:

  • Set a goal for getting more women into first-level management;
  • Put evaluators through unconscious bias training;
  • Establish clear evaluation criteria, and
  • Put more women in line for the step up to manager.

When it comes to setting a goal for getting more women into first-level management, the problem stems from the fact that about a third of companies set targets for the representation of women at first-level management, compared to 41% for senior levels of management.

The broken rung

The report says, ‘Companies should use targets more aggressively. Given how important it is to fix the broken rung, companies would be well served by setting and publicising a bold goal to grow the number of women at the manager level. Moreover, companies should put targets in place for hiring and promotions, the processes that most directly shape employee representation.’

Evaluators through unconscious bias training are important because unconscious bias can play a large role in determining who is hired, promoted, or left behind. The report concludes that companies are less likely to provide unconscious bias training for employees who participate in entry-level performance reviews than senior-level reviews, but mitigating bias at this stage is particularly important.

‘Candidates tend to have shorter track records early in their careers, and evaluators may make unfair, gendered assumptions about their future potential,’ the report says. ‘There is also compelling evidence that this training works: In companies with smaller gender disparities in representation, half of the employees received unconscious bias training in the past year, compared to only a quarter of employees in companies that aren’t making progress closing these gaps.’

Clear evaluations

It is essential to have clear evaluation criteria as companies need to make sure they have the right processes in place to prevent bias from creeping into hiring and reviews. The report says this means establishing clear evaluation criteria before the review process begins. Evaluation tools should also be easy to use and designed to gather objective, measurable input. For example, a rating scale is generally more effective than an open-ended assessment.

‘Even with the right systems in place, processes can break down in practice,’ the report explains. ‘Employees are less likely than HR leaders to say that evaluation criteria are defined before candidate reviews begin, and they report that participating employees do not typically flag bias when they see it. This points to the need for companies to put additional safeguards in place to encourage fair, unbiased evaluations. Without exception, candidates for the same role should be evaluated using the same criteria.

‘Employees should feel empowered to surface bias in the moment and have the training and resources to act when they observe it. In addition, outside research shows that it can help to have a third party in the room when evaluators discuss candidates to highlight potential bias and encourage objectivity.’

Finally, it stands to reason that more women need to be put in line for the step up to manager. ‘It is critical that women get the experience they need to be ready for management roles, as well as opportunities to raise their profile so they get tapped for them’, the report says. ‘The building blocks to make this happen are not new—leadership training, sponsorship, high-profile assignments—but many companies need to provide them with a renewed sense of urgency.’

Stephanie Spicer

Stephanie Spicer is an Editor at Bonhill Group.

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