I see a lot of headlines in the business press lately about the fact that women are underrepresented in U.S. corporations. Not exactly startling news.
But the devil is in the details—the data that shows the glacial pace of progress toward rectifying the disparity. A recently released study, Women in the Workplace, conducted by LeanIn.Org and McKinsey & Company, states that at the rate of progress of the past three years, it will take more than 100 years to reach gender parity in the C-suite in corporate America.
One hundred years? This is the same upcoming century for which futurists are predicting advances like a cure for cancer, a manned colony on the moon, and the halting—or even reversal—of aging.
So, we may see a cure for cancer and old age in the next century, but the best we can do for women is get them equal representation in the C-suite?
There’s one upside. Women may not infiltrate the C-suite until 2115, but by then, they’ll have eternal life. So they’ll have plenty of time to enjoy their leadership positions. That’s something.
So why is progress so slow in achieving gender parity in corporate America? It’s not, as many people assume, because women are leaving companies at higher rates than men or due to difficulties balancing work and family. The root causes are complex, and in some cases subtle, and it’s worth reading the full report to see the data and conclusions.
One key reason for the persistence of the disparity is “unconscious bias”—the things people unconsciously believe about women, and other underrepresented groups, that affect attitudes, behaviors and decisions in the workplace.
I’m lucky to have male co-workers who may have some unconscious biases (we all do), but who are fully conscious of gender disparities. Not so in most corporations. LeanIn.org/McKinsey found that 70% of men in the study “think gender diversity is important, but only 12 percent believe women have fewer opportunities.” That’s a surprisingly small percentage.
Want to hear a statistic that’s even more surprising? According to Public Policy Polling, an estimated four percent of Americans believe that “shape-shifting reptilian people control our world by taking on human form and gaining power.”
(Yes, I know these data points are completed unrelated. But they do make you stop and think…)
So, at the rate we’re going, gender parity won’t be achieved for 100 years in the C-suite. One hundred years ago, women didn’t have the right to vote in America and couldn’t work in most professions. So the last hundred years haven’t been too bad. Surely we can speed up the progress to be made in the next 100?
More thoughts on the challenge of gender parity in the workplace in another post next week.
Learn about the BECAUZ Women in Leadership program.