Women want more from their workplaces, and they aren’t afraid to walk away to get it.
Women are leaving workplaces at higher rates than ever, the 2022 Women in the Workplace study by McKinsey & Company and nonprofit LeanIn.org found. The study, which surveyed 333 U.S. and Canadian companies and more than 40,000 employees, found that women’s voluntary attrition was 10.5% this year, compared to 9% for men. That’s up from 7.2% for women and 7.1% for men the year before.
Women are also still dramatically underrepresented in higher level and C-suite roles due to what the report calls the “broken rung”: For every 100 men promoted from entry level to manager, only 87 women are promoted, and only 82 women of color are promoted. This means that the higher you go, the fewer women there are to promote.
“We're really at risk of organizations unwinding the progress they've made on gender equity,” said Rachel Thomas, co-founder and CEO of LeanIn.org and co-author of the report. “And let's be clear, they weren't close to an equal distribution when it comes to leadership already.”
These talent gaps between men and women are wider in tech. In hardware, women make up 32% of entry-level positions and 26% of the C-suite. In software, women represent 41% of entry-level jobs and 27% of the C-suite. This includes tech roles at non-tech companies, Alexis Krivkovich, managing partner at McKinsey and co-author of the report, told Protocol. And the gap is only getting wider, Krivkovich said: “The difference between men and women holding tech roles is two-and-a-half times more men than women. In 2018, it was 1.9 times.” Because few women are in the tech workforce, few women want to join, she said.
“Women in tech disproportionately experienced being an ‘only’ in the workplace,” Krivkovich said. “You're more likely to be mistaken for someone junior, you're more likely to have someone take credit for your work, you're more likely to be challenged for why you're there and deserve to be at the table. Increasingly, women are saying they want an experience that is better than that.”
Women of marginalized communities often face compounded discrimination. Around 60% of Black, Latina, and Asian women reported having bad experiences with management, including receiving less support, more than 50% reported experiencing less advocacy from team and leadership, and more than 40% said they experienced discomfort and exclusion among employees. Women with disabilities reported having their competence and authority challenged, including others getting credit for their work (36%) and having their judgment questioned (47%).
Women aren’t just leaving for a higher paycheck or new title. Women often face more opposition, including microaggressions that undermine their authority or bias in promoting, according to the report. They’re also often overworked and under-recognized: Around 37% of women leaders reported having a co-worker get credit for their idea, compared to 27% of men in those positions.
Many who choose to leave are also looking for a better workplace culture. Nearly 50% of women in the study said flexibility is one of the top three things they consider when joining a company. Progress in diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives — or lack thereof — also plays a big factor in whether they stay or go: Women leaders are 1.5 times more likely to have left a previous position because they wanted the company to be more committed to DEI.
Bridging the gap
The talent gap between men and women may be wide now, but it doesn’t have to stay that way.
One solution may be embracing flexible work styles. According to the report, only around 10% of women surveyed wanted to work mostly on-site. Though working from home is often helpful for women with families, many reported that it’s about more than just time constraints. While working from home, many said they experience less discrimination and fewer microagressions, especially women of marginalized groups.
Plus, remote work works as a hiring tool: More than 70% of HR leaders surveyed said remote work has helped their company hire more talent from diverse backgrounds. Speaking at a recent event attended by Protocol, Henrique Dubugras, the CEO of fintech company Brex, echoed this statement. Dubugras said the surge in remote work helped Brex with its diversity. “I felt like when we were in the Bay Area, every female engineer was getting hit with recruiters every single day,” Dubugras said.
But a flexible work plan has to be done with care to avoid “flexibility stigma” among managers, said Thomas.
“Flexibility stigma is the unfounded belief that if you're working atypical hours or you're working from home, that you're not as committed or you're not as productive,” said Thomas. “Those are some things organizations should think about as they continue to lean into flexibility.”
Some ways to do this are regularly gathering feedback from employees on their experiences, being intentional about employee connectedness and fostering camaraderie, and making sure that remote and hybrid employees get the same benefits and opportunities as those who work fully in-person, according to the report.
But remote work can’t be used as a crutch to avoid systemic change. Per the report, the key to gaining and retaining diverse talent is properly training managers to understand DEI initiatives and support employee well-being, Thomas said. This support can look like showing interest in a worker’s career, making sure that employees get proper credit, checking in on personal well-being, and encouraging respectful behavior among staff.
And expectations for this are on the rise. Seventy-eight percent of employees surveyed expect managers to be supportive of employees’ well-being, while 80% expect them to promote inclusion. A supportive manager is one of the top three factors in whether women surveyed joined or stayed at a company, the study found.
“Companies need to be doing more to set managers up for success,” Thomas said. “They're on the front lines of all employees' experiences, and that includes women's experiences. We know that companies are expecting them to do more to support employee well-being … and foster inclusion on their teams. And yet they're not always being trained effectively to do that.”