Why is gender inequality in the workplace so persistent despite growing attention from business leaders and the media—and what should we all do differently? Our research suggests we fall short in translating top-level commitment into a truly inclusive work environment. We see strong evidence that even when top executives say the right things, employees don’t think they have a plan for making progress toward gender equality, don’t see those words backed up with action, don’t feel confident calling out gender bias when they see it, and don’t think frontline managers have gotten the message. Consider these findings from our survey conducted with LeanIn.Org, which included more than 130 companies and over 34,000 men and women:
- Employees question the plan of attack. Companies have been trying to apply the same playbook of programs and policies for more than a decade. The vast majority of companies have flexibility, mentorship, and parental-leave programs. Despite these efforts, only 45 percent of employees think their companies are doing what it takes to improve diversity outcomes. The younger generation is even less confident—with only 38 percent of entry-level women thinking their company has a good handle on gender diversity.
- Commitment isn’t evident in everyday actions. There’s also a yawning gap between what companies think they do and what people experience day to day. For example, more than 70 percent of companies say they are committed to diversity, but less than a third of their workers see senior leaders held accountable for improving gender outcomes. Over 90 percent of companies report using clear, objective criteria for hiring and promotions, yet only about half of women believe they have equal opportunities for growth at their companies. Without bridging the gap between corporate intent and individual experience, companies won’t break the stall.
- People and organizations are afraid to address bias head on. Men and women, in all roles, shy away from calling out gender bias when it occurs. Less than a quarter of employees see their managers regularly challenge gender-biased language or behavior. Less than half of all employees see day-to-day evidence that their company is worried about creating a culture that embraces diverse leadership styles. Though there has been a surge of corporate programs focused on unconscious bias, people aren’t having the courageous conversations.
- Frontline managers need help. Change does not happen without the full engagement of frontline leaders. These are the plant managers, regional sales leaders, store managers, team coaches, and general managers who make companies tick. Today, only 9 percent of employees see managers recognized for making progress on gender-diversity goals. Less than half of all workers see managers taking advantage of the diverse strengths of their teams or considering a diverse lineup of candidates for open positions. What this tells us is that managers are either not getting the message or don’t know how to manage differently.