Women in the Workforce: New Report Emphasizes the Early Career Gender Gap

By Roberta Attanasio, Forever Leaders Editor

Workplace gender equality ensures that people access and enjoy the same resources, rewards, and opportunities, regardless of gender. However, gender equality is a concept that, as of now, does not seem to have a counterpart in the daily reality of most organizations. Men and women experience the same workplace differently, as opportunities for advancement differ considerably between men and women.

In 2015, the 193 members of the UN General Assembly adopted the 17 Sustainable Development Goals. Among them, Goal Five addresses a critical issue across the world—it aspires to “achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls” by 2030. However, gender equality remains elusive, not only at the global level, but also within the U.S.


Photo Credit: Ged Carroll, CC BY 2.0

A 2015 survey by LeanIn.Org and McKinsey & Company found that “From entry level to the C-suite, women are underrepresented at U.S. corporations, less likely to advance than men, and face more barriers to senior leadership. In fact, at the rate of progress of the past three years, it will take more than 100 years for the upper reaches of US corporations to achieve gender parity.” Women currently hold only 4.6% of CEO positions at the biggest corporations (S&P 500 companies), and only 19.9% of board seats at these same corporations.

Karen Keogh, head of global philanthropy at JPMorgan Chase, said last year: “Gender equality in the workplace is getting unprecedented attention as a result of much more data being publicly available, much of it quite disappointing given how long we have been working on these issues.”

Now, a new report by LeanIn.Org and McKinsey & Company (Women in the Workforce 2016) shows that promotion rates for women lag behind those of men, and the disparity is the largest at the first step up to manager—for every 130 men who are promoted from the entry-level ranks to manager, only 100 women are similarly promoted. According to the report “Women are less likely to receive the first critical promotion to manager—so far fewer end up on the path to leadership—and are less likely to be hired into more senior positions. Women also get less access to the people, input, and opportunities that accelerate careers. As a result, the higher you look in companies, the fewer women you see.”

The key findings of the report are:

  1. Women who negotiate for a promotion or compensation increase are 30% more likely than men who negotiate to receive feedback that they are “bossy,” “too aggressive,” or “intimidating.”
  2. Women and men both view sponsorship by senior leaders as essential for success. Yet women report fewer substantive interactions with senior leaders than their male counterparts do—and this gap widens as women and men advance.
  3. Despite asking for informal feedback as often as men do, women report they receive it less frequently. Moreover, there appears to be a disconnect in the way managers convey difficult feedback. Most managers say they rarely hesitate to give difficult feedback to both women and men, but women report they receive it less frequently.
  4. Only 40% of women are interested in becoming top executives, compared to 56% of men. Women and men worry equally about work-life balance and company politics. However, women with and without children are more likely to say they don’t want the pressure, and women who want a top job anticipate a steeper path than men who do.

Sheryl Sandberg, founder of LeanIn.org, wrote about the report on September 27, 2016, in The Wall Street Journal. She points out that the report is a reminder, yet again, of how much is left to do. Companies need to make a stronger case for gender diversity—explaining why it matters and how it benefits everyone. Companies should also set goals and measure progress, and encourage women to keep negotiating. She concludes that “More women are leaning in—and we’ll all go farther when the workplace stops pushing back.”

Copyright © 2016-2018 Forever Leaders.


  1. I think that emphasizing and proving that women don’t actually do more poorly in positions of power than men do would be a good step. Additionally, educating people on the blatant double standards that occur is vital. We, sometimes subconsciously, both sexualize and infantilize women seeking work.
    I recently saw a post on social media that said that feminism eradicated the “uniqueness” of women. It was well-intentioned, but nonetheless problematic in its firm position on gender roles- suggesting that women can only be best at care-taking, beauty and other traditionally feminine roles is unfair and archaic. The same goes with men by feminizing such roles, and hyper-masculinizing positions like being the “breadwinner” or fighting for what one believes in.

  2. Thanks to women like Sheryl Sandberg and the professors and mentors in Women Lead, these conversations are becoming more and more frequent. That is the first step. These role models definitely catalyze movement toward change in these areas. Their positions also give them a platform to speak to men and women about not only what the problem is but also why we should care. I think there is the tendency to conform and passively accept that this is just the way things are, but these forerunners are broadening the horizon and showing women how much more there is to do with their lives beyond the social norm. Showing people the statistics of these inequalities is one piece of the puzzle, but how can we get people on board with positive reinforcement? I am seeing that as women do advance and unlock more opportunity, that acts as reinforcement. What other ways do you all think we can show people how this change benefits everyone?

  3. The fact that women are promoted less from the start helps to explain the apparent paradox of women receiving more degrees and entry level positions, yet achieving fewer leadership positions.

    Like Karen Keogh said in her quote above, gender equality is receiving so much attention now because of all of the research being published about gender biases. Legitimate scientific data makes the existence of gender bias more difficult to dispute. Unfortunately, teaching about gender bias isn’t enough. As we learned earlier in class, some people use the knowledge of widespread gender bias to justify their own biases! Unfortunately, many people (including women) will think, that’s just the way things are. And like Kathryn said, some people don’t accept these facts and think that we’re just complaining – they think that we’re trying to get an advantage when really we’re just working to be thought of as equals.

    People have to actually care about this issue to make real change happen. So we need to keep on making noise. I’ve met resistance when I explain today’s gender inequalities, but I try to keep pushing through. Women need to care for their own sake, and men need to care about the vast talents that women will bring to the workforce as leaders.

  4. I believe a lot of it comes down to gender bias that most people have. The post mentioned that managers said they are willing to give feedback to men and women equally but women say that they don’t receive it as often. In chapter 13 of Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg it talks about having HR implement a bias training for all employees. Most people are not aware of their biases but if they are trained to notice them they will be more likely to work harder to overcome them. I believe this is one of the fundamental steps that needs to take place as we try and reach gender equality in the workplace.

    • Eden, this is a great point. I think many people believe they are treating others equally, but do not realize they are actually acting with bias. I think that gender bias is one of the most common instances where bosses think they are treating their employees fairly, but are actually discriminating. While they do not mean to treat men and women differently outright, it happens subconsciously. I think we all do this, to some extent – I find myself treating my male friends differently than my female friends. I could have a male and female friend say the same sentence to me, but I would respond in two completely different ways depending upon their gender. These little differences on a minute level make workplace bias more likely, so I think we need to combat the differences everywhere in life, not just in the workplace. I also think your idea of conducting trainings to educate workers on the likely professional biases would be a great idea. I believe that if people are educated on the likelihood of subconscious gender biases, employees in leadership roles would work hard to combat the gender biases.

  5. Women are constantly fighting to be equal to men in work settings, and many believe we have won that battle, but it is only the beginning because there is so much more that needs to be addressed. Everyone is looking at the point of entry but never comprehends what happens after the point of entry into a career amongst other men. Usually, when a women enter a career she is apart of a team amongst other men, but she is not excelling to her true potential because what goes on within the work setting that hinders her from success such as sex discrimination, stereotypes, and prejudice. Society loves to make it seem as if we are improving and changing for the better but in reality, it seems more as a way to shut women up because society doesn’t want to resolve issues within work settings they would rather just cover them up. The point of entry is simply not enough because it isn’t fair for women to be within a team and not be able to voice their opinion, receive credit for their work, and then is held back from promotions and raises. We need to stand as women, but we need men to stand with us because we have had enough.

    • In a social gathering about a week ago, I was asked by one of my male peers if I believed in male privilege. Without hesitation I replied “absolutely.” I received a role of the eyes and patronizing questioning of what reasonings I had to back up my beliefs. Even though I stated all of the facts and statistics I had stored in my brain, I was made to feel like they were made up and that women are just complaining. I completely agree with you that women need to keep fighting, asking, and demanding and that we need men on are our side as well. But how to we get them to see things from our perspective? I know there are many men who are feminists and I am thankful for them. But I can’t help but feel discouraged that we will always be faced with opposition from the men who either do not understand or who do not want to understand because they want to protect their privilege. I will always keep fighting and encouraging others to fight. And even though I receive distain, I will continue to try to educate others on gender equality. However, like you, I just felt it necessary to voice my discouragement that in this day and age, we still are having to fight so hard for equality.

  6. The division between men and women in the workplace is crucial is always a sensitive topic. Some argue that equality is currently being achieved when in reality the battle has just begun. Women in the workplace do not receive the same tools to get promoted and often have a negative stigma attached to them if they try to get the same tools. In the workplace, women are expected to be nice and accommodate for to the company, and men are expected to get ahead. Traditional ways of thinking of women in the workplace are still very much alive. Women need to be taught that it is okay to want a c-suite position in a corporation and not to care about how they are perceived. We need to continue to make more people aware of the situation through these types of studies, in order to work for equality in the workplace

    • I agree with you Sherlyn, but also a part of obtaining that c-suite position is to work together. Often, when women get those positions they don’t advocate for those coming behind them who have what it takes to be in that position. At a young age, women should be taught to work together while still obtaining their successful position. I like what you said about women needing to learn to careless of other’s opinions, but to add, still be mindful of feedback and constructive criticism because those things help in obtaining higher positions as well.

  7. The beginning matters! Women should be taught to have the expectations and the goals that men also are able to achieve so easily. I think we often live in two separate systems, meshed together, so that we think we are getting equal information, but instead we are not. We forget that the social behavior between men and women often blocks the messages that are coming through, catering the messages about high careers towards men, and the messages about family and social settings towards women. I believe we need a transparent version of these two systems, that allow men and women to receive the same tools to help them succeed including mentors, feedback, and wages. We should be taught from the beginning that we can achieve just as much as any man can.

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