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2021 in Review for Women at Work | Takeaways from McKinsey &'s Annual Report

Minah Kim profile image

Minah Kim

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In the second year of the global pandemic, we experienced and witnessed unprecedented workplace challenges, labor shortages, increased stress and grief, and the growing demand for racial equity. These issues all appear to have disproportionately affected people with marginalized identities. Here is the latest data on women in the workplace from a study conducted by McKinsey in partnership with LeanIn.Org, along with potential solutions for a path forward. 

This data set includes information from more than 65,000 employees, representing 423 participating organizations employing over 12 million people; in-depth interviews were also conducted with women of diverse identities, including women of color, LGBTQ+ women, and women with disabilities.

Women are facing an increasing level of burnout

  • 42% of women say they felt often or almost always burned out in 2021, compared to 32% in 2020.
  • The gap between men and women facing burnout has doubled in the past year.
  • One in three women has considered leaving the workforce or downshifting their career in the past year.

Burnout takes a significant toll on representation in the workplace and can exacerbate existing inequities within the promotion pipeline. McKinsey’s report highlights effective approaches to addressing burnout, including increasing mental health support and training employees on setting boundaries. 

While organization-level initiatives are crucial for systemic change, there are steps individuals can take to maintain wellbeing and remain focused and fulfilled. By preventing your own burnout, you can also help to sustain a healthy culture on your team. Start by identifying and understanding signs of burnout and work on developing tactics that help you address your challenges. Incorporating these tactics into your regular routine can help you prevent burnout in the future

Women leaders face greater challenges than their male counterparts

Women of color are not seeing improvements in their day-to-day experiences despite employers’ increasing commitment to racial equity.

  • Women face micro-aggressions that challenge their competence (e.g., being interrupted, hearing comments on their emotional state, or having their judgment questioned) at a higher rate than men; the gap increases as seniority increases.
  • Women of color and women with other traditionally marginalized identities face an even higher rate and wider range of micro-aggressions (as compared with white women) including disrespecting and “othering” behavior (e.g., compared to white women, Black women are more than three times as likely to hear people express surprise at their language skills or other abilities).
  • White employees are no more likely than last year to speak out against discrimination, mentor or sponsor women of color, or take other actions to advocate. 

Organizations can take action to create a workplace where everyone feels valued and train employees at all levels on bias, anti-racism, and allyship. Employees should be aware of barriers faced by marginalized groups and need tools to collectively tackle these challenges. Senior leaders should be supporting and participating in DEI initiatives which should be adequately resourced and prioritized. 

Women are leading the effort to support teams and advance DEI, but are not always recognized

  • A higher percentage of employees with women managers (vs. employees with male managers) report their managers provide emotional support, check in on their well being, help navigate work/life challenges, ensure a manageable workload, and take actions to prevent burnout.
  • Women managers do DEI work and regularly take allyship actions at higher rates than their male counterparts.
  • Employees state that support with wellbeing, workload, and allyship lead to greater happiness with their job and likelihood of recommending their employer as well as less burnout and likelihood to leave their organization.

Recognizing and rewarding staff who support DEI efforts is critical to a healthy workplace

Suggestions from the report include: 

  • De-bias hiring and performance review processes. To address underrepresentation of women in mid-level management, organizations can offer bias training specifically focused on hiring and performance reviews to make these processes more equitable
  • Track and set internal diversity metrics including promotion metrics by gender and race/ethnicity. Organizations should track promotion outcomes for women, women of color, and other underrepresented groups to fully understand representation gaps at every level. To address these gaps, more effort in mentorship and professional development may be needed.
  • Holding leaders accountable for progress on diversity goals. Representation can be addressed like any other organizational priority. Once goals are set, leaders responsible for hiring and promotions can be held accountable via performance reviews and financial incentives. 

Awareness of these challenges provides an opportunity to create a healthier, safer, and more inclusive work environment, and addressing them will be critical to ensuring that you and your co-workers can thrive at work. 

Share these findings with your co-workers and join our discussion on Facebook about how to address these issues effectively. 

Minah Kim profile image

Minah Kim

Minah Kim is a writer based in Brooklyn. She is a labor and community organizer with experience in the healthcare and professional services sectors. 

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