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The Daily

Study: C-Suite Gender Parity Coming... In About 100 Years

Chris Gaetano
Published Date:
Oct 1, 2015
ScalesThe world of the year 2115 will no doubt be a much different place than it is today. Maybe cloned woolly mammoths will be the trendy new pet, maybe there will be people living in colonies on the moon, and maybe, just maybe, there will be about as many women in C-suite positions as men, at least according to a recent study, which says that at current rates "it will take 25 years to reach gender parity at the senior-VP level and more than 100 years in the C-suite." 

The study, commissioned by McKinsey and Company and Lean In, looked at employee data of 30,000 people at 118 companies and concluded, overall, that "women are still underrepresented at every level in the corporate pipeline" not due to the common assumptions of balancing work and family but because "women face greater barriers to advancement and a steeper path to senior leadership." 

For example, the report says that fewer women hold roles that lead to the C-suite: while a majority of manager-level women hold positions with profit-and-loss responsibility or those focused on core operations, the ones who reach VP level tend to hold staff roles like legal, HR or IT. "In contract, a majority of men hold line roles at every level. Since line roles are closer to the company's core operations and provide critical preparation for top roles, this disparity can impede women's path to senior leadership." In other words, women in VP positions are typically in roles where their direct impact on the bottom line is less visible than the ones more directly connected to revenue streams. The number of women in such roles grow fewer and fewer the higher up in the hierarchy you go. 

"These trends create a dilemma for women who aspire to senior leadership. On the one hand, line roles provide the type of experience that leads more directly to the C-suite. On the other hand, women in line roles have lower odds of reaching top spots than their peers in staff roles," said the report. 

This could be compounded by the networks that women build: the report says that women's professional networks tend to be either all female or mixed, while men's professional networks predominantly are all male. 

"Given that men are more likely to hold leadership positions, women may end up with less access to senior-level sponsorship. In fact, only 10 percent of senior-level women
report that four or more executives have helped them advance compared to 17 percent of senior-level men," said the report. 

The report also says that women are less likely, though, to desire senior leadership positions in the first place; more men than women want to be CEO. The number one reason for this gap is, according to the report, a concern about stress and pressure, with number two being a concern that it will be difficult to balance work and family.

However, while it is commonly said that women with children would prefer to ease up on responsibilities to find this balance, the study actually found the opposite: mothers are 15 percent more likely to desire a top executive position than those with no children.

The statistics also change when race is taken into account: "Black, Hispanic and Asian women are 43 percent more interested in becoming a top executive than white women, and 16 percent more interested than white men." However, the report also says "they are similarly interested in promotion but less interested in becoming a top executive compared with men of the same ethnicity." 

Perhaps due to all these factors, women are four times as likely as men to believe they have fewer advancement opportunities because of their gender and are twice as likely to think their gender will make it harder for them in the future. Three times as many women than men said they have personally missed out on an assignment, promotion or raise because of their gender, and also say they are consulted less often on important decisions. While 74 percent of companies say that gender diversity is a top priority, less than half of workers believe it's a priority at all, and only a third view it as a top priority by their direct manager. 

The report recommended companies track progress metrics such as women in line positions, promotion rates, compensation or attrition. It also said companies must do more than say they value gender diversity, they need to show it through commitments of time and money, as well as setting gender targets. Another recommendation was to have workers in supervisory positions be more aware of how gender bias works, and interrupt it when it's happening. The culture relating to work/life balance must also change, said the report: for example, more than 90 percent of both women and men believe that taking family leave to handle a family matter will hurt their careers. The report also says management practices need to change, including holding managers accountable for performance on gender diversity metrics. Finally, women at the senior level tend to be "particularly disillusioned and dissatisfied with their careers, and this works against creating an environment that fosters female leadership," and so the report recommended that leaders should make it a priority to address this.