#BreakTheBias: Women in the Workplace

This International Women’s Day, we look at some of the common obstacles for women at work, and what we can do to overcome them.

Written by Natalie Benfell
Published 04 March 2022
#BreakTheBias: Women in the Workplace

March 8th is International Women’s Day – a time to celebrate women's achievements and stand up for equality. This year’s theme is #BreakTheBias. Certain biases in the workplace still make it very difficult for women to move up in their careers. 

It’s therefore important to recognize these biases, identify ways to break them, and take specific actions to help affect change. 

That is why we decided to create an infographic based on the recent Women in the Workplace 2021 study from McKinsey & Company showing the different obstacles that exist for women whilst climbing the corporate ladder. 

Although McKinsey’s research shows signs that female representation is improving across the corporate pipeline, there is still significant improvement needed. 

For every 100 men that are promoted to manager, only 86 women are promoted 

Women are losing out at the first step up to manager, which explains why it’s taking longer for more women to be represented in more senior roles. McKinsey & Company have described this as a “broken rung” in the corporate ladder. If only 86 women for every 100 men are being promoted to management, this means there are fewer opportunities for women to be promoted at higher levels. 

Women overall account for 24 percent of C-suite leaders ... 

While the proportion of women reaching the C-suite is rising, at 24 percent this is far from gender parity. 

...and women of color account for only 4 percent 

Worryingly, despite an increased focus on DE&I in US corporates in the last year, McKinsey reports that women of color continue to have a worse experience in the workplace. Whether that’s missing out at the C-suite level or having to suffer a wider range of microaggressions around their work performance and competence. 

42 percent of women reported burnout last year, compared to 32 percent in 2020 

There has been a huge focus on promoting well-being and work-life balance last year, however, McKinsey’s research suggests burnout is still increasing, and at a much faster rate among women compared to men. There are many factors as to why this may be the case, but setting clear boundaries for work-life balance seems to be one of the key issues.  

As flexible working becomes the norm, many companies are falling into the trap of promoting an “always on” work culture. For example, McKinsey reported that only 1 in 5 employees were told that they didn’t need to respond to work requests out of office hours.  

Establishing clear boundaries and reinforcing the idea of “switching off” would go a long way to promoting a healthier work-life balance. 

4 in 10 women considered leaving their company or switching their jobs last year 

As well as setting clear boundaries for “switching off,” manager support is also a huge influence on employee well-being. For example, when bosses help employees manage their workload, they’re 32 percent less likely to be burned out, and 33 percent less likely to consider leaving their company.  

Effective manager support is a huge help, however, it’s particularly important at senior level. As women move into leadership roles, they’ll often find greater challenges concerning their own wellbeing. For example, 50 percent of female managers have reported burnout and 40 percent considered leaving the workforce or downshifting their careers. 

1 in 3 women considered leaving the workforce altogether last year 

It’s not just managers that considered leaving the workforce last year. In fact, overall, 1 in 3 women considered leaving or downshifting their careers – a significant increase from 1 in 4 during the first few months of the pandemic.  

And, with recent reports of the high employee turnover of 2021 not slowing down, it suggests that many women are following through. 

So what can we do as women and allies to help keep and support women in the workplace? We asked our colleagues at Mind Tools for Business for their thoughts and advice for women in the workplace... 

“I balance looking after my 3 and 5 year old children with working 3.5 days per week and have definitely had my moments where I’ve thought that pursuing my career is unsustainable given the challenges of balancing both. However, in these moments I step back and remind myself that “this too shall pass” – a situation which feels like a massive challenge one week has more than likely rectified itself the following, and my employer is so supportive that it’s often me worrying about whatever is happening that is an obstacle, rather than the situation itself. I’ve realised I can only control what I can control!” 

– Suzanne Jenkins, Performance and Development Manager 

“Policies and processes are important, but everyone can build women's visibility, reputation and confidence by showing practical respect for their views and helping them get heard day to day. That might mean being a bit quieter to provide the space they're due, quoting them to colleagues not present at the time, or simply thinking to invite them to be part of a meeting or project in the first place, breaking up the male monopoly on big ideas and influence.” 

– Charlie Swift, Managing Editor 

“One of the biggest problems I've encountered as a working mum is the lack of flexibility in terms of working hours and part time roles on offer in the jobs market. I feel lucky to have the job that I do have at the moment, which allows me to work part time. I work four days a week, and I believe I'm actually more productive than I would be if I worked full time because it's made me organize myself and my workload better. And it's also given me the work-life balance that I need.  

Women shouldn't feel like they are failing at work because they are looking after their kids, neither should they feel like they're failing at home, because their employer won't offer them flexibility. Since the pandemic, there's been more part time roles and more flexible jobs on the market, but there's still so much that could be done to support working mums back into work - it shouldn't be made difficult for them, which I still feel, too often, is the case.” 

– Lucy Bishop, Senior Editor 

"I am so proud of my female colleagues and what they've achieved in the workplace, especially over the last two years. Something that I've learned over the course of the pandemic is that strong communication is absolutely paramount. It's taught me that not every individual feels the same about certain issues, and being allowed the space to share one's feelings can make such a difference to the way they feel. I'd urge women and allies to provide opportunities for connection whether working face-to-face, remotely or in a hybrid format. Women can truly thrive at work when they feel heard and understood." 

– Helen Essex, Campaign Marketing Manager 

Want to celebrate International Women’s Day? Share this blog and our infographic with your colleagues to help spread the word and #BreakTheBias.



About the author

Natalie Benfell

Natalie Benfell

Content and Product Marketing Manager
Natalie is a passionate marketeer with over seven years of marketing experience. She enjoys copywriting, creative problem-solving and helping to build a strong brand presence.

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