McKinsey’s diversity lead: Too many companies focus on hiring women, but not on keeping them

"There are many jobs available in the technology market right now. Are you a culture and place to work that's attractive enough that women want to stay?"

McKinsey’s diversity lead: Too many companies focus on hiring women, but not on keeping them

"Underneath the four or five big names in tech, there's a whole sector of medium-sized software and enterprise and consumer companies, and companies that are pre-IPO that are continuing to do well. And that's super important," says McKinsey's Lareina Yee.

Photo: McKinsey and Protocol

There's no one better suited to talk about the importance of diversity and the fight to advance women inside tech companies than McKinsey's Lareina Yee. As the chief diversity officer and leader of the company's global technology hardware and services work, it's almost all she thinks about.

Yee also leads a research project called Women in the Workplace, which releases an annual report, in partnership with Sheryl Sandberg's Lean In and The Wall Street Journal, about the progress of female representation in corporate leadership and corporate careers. This year's report, released last month, revealed an astonishing statistic: that one in four women were considering downshifting their careers because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Protocol spoke with Yee about the effects of the pandemic on women's careers, what she looks for when consulting with tech companies on their potential for growth and what she's most looking forward to in 2021.

This interview has been edited and condensed for length and clarity.

The Women in the Workplace report called diverse and historically underrepresented women in corporate leadership "onlys." In some rooms, I imagine you are also one of those women. Does it feel as unfriendly as it looks sometimes? That doesn't seem to be changing a whole lot, at least according to the data about these women and their experiences in the report.

For women of color, 45% of the time they experience being an "only." It is the simultaneous experience of visually being the only person who looks like you, maybe because of the intersection of your gender and race, and feeling extreme isolation in a snap moment, as well as an intense pressure to positively show the stereotypes of your small group. That is the inner dialogue. The other thing is that "onlys" are more likely to face very common microaggressions, like being perceived as more junior than you really are and your credibility questioned.

On a more personal level, I think that when we first started writing about being an "only," one of the things that I felt was personally helpful, and what I noticed when I talk to women of color in particular, particularly Black women and Latinx women, is the ability to put some data and real research behind something you've experienced all your life.

And for me, I would think back to many experiences of being an only, and knowing that there is a reason that's happening, and that you're not the only one experiencing it. There's cold comfort in knowing that you're part of a trend. I see myself in this really depressing data. And there's something empowering about that.

On the other side of the pipeline, how do we keep women — and women of color especially — advancing from entry-level positions at tech companies?

For tech companies, I often ask them whether they have a pipe or a funnel. There are some companies that are more pipes, and then there are the vast majority, which look more like funnels. So a funnel starts wide and gets really narrow.

And most tech companies are hand wringing, "Well, we only have 30% women entry. It's so hard, only 18% of college graduate women are stem degrees and engineers." Which I completely agree is a real problem to solve. But if you start with 30% women engineers, my question is, are you a funnel? Meaning that you end up with very few women over time. Or are you a pipe? If you're a pipe, that would mean that you have 25% women in senior roles.

With the women you do have, are you investing in them, not only to stay, but get promoted in your company? There are many jobs available in the technology market right now. Are you a culture and place to work that's attractive enough that women want to stay? And if you have a funnel, it's very clear that's not the case. And then you can explore why and what to do. If you're a pipe, part of what I like to say is, that's a point of celebration. You are doing something right.

The report also showed that the pandemic has been especially bad for women's careers, especially work from home mothers. So many are considering downshifting their careers or leaving the workplace. What should companies be doing for them especially?

Even though 77% of men in dual-career households said that they are sharing the workload, only 40% of women in those situations believe it. So what could we do about it? People look for a silver bullet answer. Disappointingly so for everyone, there isn't one. It's a systems answer.

So what is the system around working women, and how would you start to change three or four of those factors? One of the things you'll see is that if companies really want to support working moms, they would actually think about four or five things, turn them all on at once, and actually make it more sustainable. So how would you reevaluate your policies and programs that support working parents? How do we pull in different types of support for child care? Some companies had child care on campus, but now they don't. And most importantly, I would say, is to take bias out of the review process.

One of the key challenges that we saw before COVID that's been amplified is that a lot of companies have quite a number of part-time and flexible job opportunities and paths. But the vast majority of women and men don't take them. And when asked why, 87% of women and men said that they see professional risk, so there's a stigma attached to taking a flexible program because perhaps people will perceive you as less serious, less driven and less motivated. I think that is one thing that we have to very quickly turn around. So one thing that leaders can do very concretely is to de-risk this perception that their career will be hurt if they actually say they need to use something that a company already offers.

Over the summer, corporate America, including many tech companies, promised new diversity and inclusion initiatives, changes to their hiring practices, pledges in support of movements like Black Lives Matter, etc. In your assessment, did this feel like the beginning of actual change, or did some of this ring hollow for you?

I am an optimistic person. So I do think it is the beginning of a very different ability to have discussions about how race and the corporate workplace come together. So if a company is headquartered in a city with large Black populations, are they standing by? Or are they getting involved in opportunity creation and work opportunities and education opportunities? Are they part of the solution, or are they quiet?

A lot of companies had discussions that you could not have imagined they could have had internally even a couple of years ago. So those are the good things. What will be really important is that if you made a pledge, are you executing on it? It's really important that people, outside of companies and employees within, hold our leaders accountable for those commitments, and also spend the time helping implement them.

Moving on to what you're thinking about in tech right now. Tech companies have been the standout success story since the beginning of the pandemic. Do you share this optimism, and do you see the same story continuing into next year?

Over COVID, many of the high-tech companies have continued to post growth, which is a really important and true evergreen metric. Behind that, what I look at is innovation. It will be critically important over the next two years, especially with rockier economic times, that those innovation engines continue to go. There's also a lot to be figured out so that the unit price for the average consumer is more accessible. And so for me, what has been really important for the tech sector is their ability to show resilience.

It's also been really good that the tech sector hasn't over-rotated, which is something you saw across industries in 2008 and 2002. Over-rotation is mass layoffs, for example. People are so much of the asset of the company, especially if you think about software engineers, and so the fact that companies are actually still hiring engineering talent is a really important indicator. Underneath the four or five big names in tech, there's a whole sector of medium-sized software and enterprise and consumer companies, and companies that are pre-IPO that are continuing to do well. And that's super important.

What's the company in your sector that you're most intrigued by? Perhaps you think it has the most potential, it's where everyone wants to work, maybe they're doing something different — what's raising really exciting questions for you right now?

The ones that catch my attention are ones where there's a lot of innovation in terms of creating new product categories or new ways to relate, but are also very visibly values-driven. Those are sort of markers that I look for. In a time of stress and pressure economically, leadership counts, and you hear some leaders above and beyond others. One that wouldn't surprise you that seems to be very much in the public eye right now is Airbnb, and they're very open about publishing things on Medium and their internal materials are shared externally.

There are many companies that are being incredibly thoughtful right now, both about diversity and inclusion, but also more broadly about the need for humanity at a moment where a lot of people feel a range of things from isolation to stress and pressure to bring about frontline safety. If you just think of the way a lot of these fast-growth tech companies, especially software-oriented ones, worked, it was all of us together in a room, coding until late in the evening. And that's not possible. So you have to be able to keep that up and actually rewire how you collaborate and how you work as a team.

Who are those values-driven leaders impressing you at smaller companies, and what in particular are you looking for there?

Some of the indicators I look for are things that are maybe more operational, above and beyond the big, obvious pieces. It depends what stage company you're looking at, but a lot of the companies that are growing 20% to 40% and are less than 1,000 people, they're growing super fast. And when you're doing that, you maybe don't have an experienced chief human resources officer, for example. And so I look for companies with people who have experience in building a people function alongside the software, and embedding it into how you work in a more substantive way.

The companies that are growing really fast and also investing in internal infrastructure and privacy and data security give me more confidence, because it means that the whole foundation of the company is a lot stronger. It's not just about the brilliance of a particular feature or product or offer.

I want to end on a hopeful question. 2020 has been a really tough year — is there something you're looking forward to in 2021, personally or otherwise?

I look forward to being in person with my teams again. I do miss being able to actually be in a room with a whiteboard and really be creative. As much as I am a huge fan of acceleration of digital teamwork, I would love to see a bit more of a balance there.

And the second thing for me is, with the Thanksgiving holiday coming up, I just feel enormously grateful. On a personal level, I feel really grateful for the people that I get to work with, and I feel incredibly focused on family. I think leaders saying that and sharing what they feel grateful for is really important, because we do not know how long this will persist into 2021. That's not something we can control.

If you search "Wordle" on the App Store right now, you'll find nearly a dozen copycat versions of the game.
Screenshot: Nick Statt/Protocol

On this episode of the Source Code podcast: Nick Statt joins the show to discuss the rise of Wordle, the subsequent rise of the Wordle clones, and why it’s so easy to copy a game. Then Ben Pimentel chats about the fight over Web3, why Jack Dorsey and Marc Andreessen are at odds, and the killer app for the future of the web. Finally, Allison Levitsky explains some of the big new future-of-work trends, including the four-day workweek and dog-walker perks.

For more on the topics in this episode:

Keep Reading Show less
David Pierce

David Pierce ( @pierce) is Protocol's editorial director. Prior to joining Protocol, he was a columnist at The Wall Street Journal, a senior writer with Wired, and deputy editor at The Verge. He owns all the phones.

Greg Petraetis, SVP and Managing Director, Midmarket and Partner Ecosystem, North America at SAP

As businesses grow during the pandemic, they also encounter pressing challenges to maintain that success. Among them is the pressure to strengthen their digital backbone, which leads to the question: How can companies find the ideal technology provider suited to their evolving needs?

In the midmarket space, small- and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) often need support to buoy them through any choppy waters ahead. As a SaaS solutions provider, SAP has extensive expertise developing strategies to connect innovative companies with their customers.

“We’ve seen how so many SMBs want to become the next billion-dollar companies as they move from being innovators and disruptors to global leaders,” says Greg Petraetis, senior vice president and managing director, Midmarket and Partner Ecosystem, North America at SAP, in an interview with Protocol. “And we’re there to catch them along that trajectory and help them achieve that profitable growth.”

Keep Reading Show less
David Silverberg
David Silverberg is a Toronto-based freelance journalist, editor and writing coach. He writes for The Washington Post, BBC News, Business Insider, The Toronto Star, New Scientist, Fodor's, and several alumni magazines. He also writes for brands such as 23andme, Shopify and Bold Commerce. He has served as editor of B2B News Network, Canada's only B2B news magazine, and Digital Journal, a leading pioneer in citizen journalism. Find more about him at

Will there be China tech IPOs to watch in 2022?

After the DiDi chaos, Chinese companies are cautiously looking to return to the capital market.

If TikTok parent company ByteDance went public this year, it would undoubtedly become the biggest IPO of any Chinese company in 2022.

Photo Illustration: Omar Marques/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

As 2022 begins, the biggest question for China IPO watchers is: Will there still be any significant IPOs this year worth anticipating?

For them, 2021 was divided into two halves: The first six months were filled with ambitious Chinese companies listing overseas, culminating in ride-hailing giant DiDi’s IPO on June 30, but it was all downhill from there. In the wake of DiDi’s rushed IPO, Chinese regulators imposed harsh cybersecurity reviews on several companies that were about to go public. Others put their IPO plans on hold. Stock markets reacted accordingly: Alibaba, Pinduoduo and others saw their share prices slashed in half.

Keep Reading Show less
Zeyi Yang

Zeyi Yang is a reporter with Protocol | China. Previously, he worked as a reporting fellow for the digital magazine Rest of World, covering the intersection of technology and culture in China and neighboring countries. He has also contributed to the South China Morning Post, Nikkei Asia, Columbia Journalism Review, among other publications. In his spare time, Zeyi co-founded a Mandarin podcast that tells LGBTQ stories in China. He has been playing Pokemon for 14 years and has a weird favorite pick.

Boost 2

Can Matt Mullenweg save the internet?

He's turning Automattic into a different kind of tech giant. But can he take on the trillion-dollar walled gardens and give the internet back to the people?

Matt Mullenweg, CEO of Automattic and founder of WordPress, poses for Protocol at his home in Houston, Texas.
Photo: Arturo Olmos for Protocol

In the early days of the pandemic, Matt Mullenweg didn't move to a compound in Hawaii, bug out to a bunker in New Zealand or head to Miami and start shilling for crypto. No, in the early days of the pandemic, Mullenweg bought an RV. He drove it all over the country, bouncing between Houston and San Francisco and Jackson Hole with plenty of stops in national parks. In between, he started doing some tinkering.

The tinkering is a part-time gig: Most of Mullenweg’s time is spent as CEO of Automattic, one of the web’s largest platforms. It’s best known as the company that runs, the hosted version of the blogging platform that powers about 43% of the websites on the internet. Since WordPress is open-source software, no company technically owns it, but Automattic provides tools and services and oversees most of the WordPress-powered internet. It’s also the owner of the booming ecommerce platform WooCommerce, Day One, the analytics tool and the podcast app Pocket Casts. Oh, and Tumblr. And Simplenote. And many others. That makes Mullenweg one of the most powerful CEOs in tech, and one of the most important voices in the debate over the future of the internet.

Keep Reading Show less
David Pierce

David Pierce ( @pierce) is Protocol's editorial director. Prior to joining Protocol, he was a columnist at The Wall Street Journal, a senior writer with Wired, and deputy editor at The Verge. He owns all the phones.


Will NFT backlash stop the blockchain gaming boom?

Few players seem to want NFTs. But that might not be enough to stop blockchain gaming from going mainstream.

NFTs in particular, and the broader blockchain gaming movement of which they are a part, have elicited a rare level of polarization among players, developers and large game-makers.
Illustration: fairywong/DigitalVision Vectors/Getty Images; Protocol

The non-fungible token debate has moved from the art world to the gaming industry, and it’s morphed into an all-consuming fight about the future of entertainment and what role, if any, the crypto movement should play in the way video games make money.

From microtransactions to crunch culture, the video game industry is full of unsavory business practices that persist in spite of widespread backlash among the general gaming audience and near-constant denunciation from outspoken industry leaders and critics. That’s in part because such practices are often lucrative or steeped in industry norms that are difficult or costly to change.

Keep Reading Show less
Nick Statt
Nick Statt is Protocol's video game reporter. Prior to joining Protocol, he was news editor at The Verge covering the gaming industry, mobile apps and antitrust out of San Francisco, in addition to managing coverage of Silicon Valley tech giants and startups. He now resides in Rochester, New York, home of the garbage plate and, completely coincidentally, the World Video Game Hall of Fame. He can be reached at

Tech workers want three-day weekends. It won’t be possible everywhere, but more companies are starting to consider it.

Illustration: Christopher T. Fong/Protocol

Welcome back to Ask a Tech Worker. For this recurring feature, I’ve been hitting the streets of San Francisco’s Financial District at lunchtime to chat with tech employees about how the workplace is changing. This time I asked about the four-day work week, that elusive schedule that companies like Bolt, Signifyd, Panasonic, Eidos-Montréal and Wildbit have adopted and a number of others have tested or considered. Got a suggestion for a future topic? Email me.

The four-day work week may be the next frontier for tech companies using work-life balance to compete for talent. Since the New Year, Bolt, commerce protection platform Signifyd and Panasonic have all announced that they’re offering four-day weeks to employees.

Keep Reading Show less
Allison Levitsky
Allison Levitsky is a reporter at Protocol covering workplace issues in tech. She previously covered big tech companies and the tech workforce for the Silicon Valley Business Journal. Allison grew up in the Bay Area and graduated from UC Berkeley.
Latest Stories