As the #MeToo movement has galvanized public attention around the problem of sexual harassment and abuse in the workplace, an unintended side effect of this scrutiny has been increased anxiety among men of “accidentally” harassing a female colleague—i.e., having an innocent remark or gesture misinterpreted as sexual and being accused of an offense he had not intended. In some cases, this is leading male corporate leaders to shy away from spending any time alone with the female colleagues or subordinates who work for them. The Washington Post took a look at this phenomenon last month:
In Silicon Valley, the chief executive of a midsize company asked his human resources manager what he should do about the undercurrent of tension around issues of sexual misconduct. Stop having dinners with female employees, he was advised. In fact, stop having dinners with any employees. Lunches are okay, dinners no way, HR told him. Another investor said his colleagues have canceled their one-on-one meetings with female entrepreneurs.
LeanIn and SurveyMonkey recently put some hard numbers behind these anecdotes, finding in a survey that “almost half of male managers are uncomfortable participating in a common work activity with a woman, such as mentoring, working alone, or socializing together,” and that 30 percent are uncomfortable working alone with a woman: more than twice as many as said so before the recent series of high-profile sexual harassment stories were reported in the media. Also, the number of male managers who are reluctant to mentor women more than tripled from 5 to 16 percent since these stories came to light.
The 2107 edition of the Women in the Workplace report, released on Tuesday by Lean In and McKinsey, finds that “women’s progress is slow—and may even be stalling—in part because many employees and companies fail to understand the magnitude of the problem.” The report, which is based on pipeline data from 222 companies employing more than 12 million people, shows that women remain underrepresented at every level, and women and color are even worse off:
Only one in five C-suite leaders is a woman, and fewer than one in thirty is a woman of color. This disparity is not due to company-level attrition or lack of interest: women and men stay at their companies and ask for promotions at similar rates. Company commitment to gender diversity is at an all-time high for the third year in a row, but this commitment isn’t changing the numbers. The report points to a simple reason: we have blind spots when it comes to diversity, and we can’t solve problems that we don’t see or understand clearly.
Lean In and McKinsey find that corporate America has made little progress toward gender parity since last year’s report, which found that for every 100 women promoted past entry level positions, 130 men were promoted, and that women were less likely to be given challenging assignments, included in meetings, or afforded opportunities to interact with senior leaders. This year’s report focuses on the thorny issue that while these problems are not getting better, many Americans (particularly men) believe they have already been solved:
Many employees think women are well represented in leadership when they see only a few. Nearly 50 percent of men think women are well represented in leadership in companies where only one in ten senior leaders is a woman. And remarkably, a third of women agree. It is hard to imagine a groundswell of change when many employees don’t see anything wrong with the status quo. …
As one of the most powerful and visible women in corporate America, Facebook’s Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg has already had a great deal of influence on how the business world thinks about gender equality and women in leadership. Yet Sandberg’s approach to leadership has itself been influenced by events in her own personal and professional life, as Backchannel’s Jessi Hempel notes in a review of her new book, Option B: Facing Adversity, Building Resilience and Finding Joy, coauthored with Wharton management professor Adam Grant. Indeed, Hempel observes, the leadership lessons Sandberg distilled into Option B were learned in the aftermath of her husband Dave Goldberg’s untimely death in 2015:
Sandberg never intended to grieve publicly. Whether driven by intuition or the smart counsel of friends like Grant, she simply did everything she knew to feel better. And because it’s the way she operates, she felt compelled to share what she’d learned about the hardest thing that has yet happened to her. The more she shared, the more people — Facebook’s employees; random strangers who’d experienced their own loss — reached back to her, and their messages (often posted on Facebook) made her feel less alone. …
It took Sandberg falling apart completely for her to come up with Option B. She had to survive a loss that briefly seemed insurmountable to bring us her next big idea. In the process, somewhat by accident because she felt she had no other choice she found a way to bring even more of her whole, messy, sad, intelligent, demanding, heartbroken self to work.
The latest report on women in the workplace from Lean In and McKinsey focuses on the challenges women still face when it comes to getting ahead in corporate America. Quartz’s Oliver Staley highlights the report’s key findings:
For every 100 women promoted past entry level positions, 130 men are promoted. Women are less likely to receive challenging assignments, participate in meetings and have access to senior leaders. And the pipeline of promotion shows women are being passed over at every stage (men and women are dropping out of the workplace at equal rates, so the numbers can’t be blamed on attrition) …
The survey revealed that more women then men asked for a raise, 29% to 27%, but that in response, 30% of women were told that they were being “bossy,” “aggressive,” or “intimidating,” compared to 23% of men. Women also say they receive less feedback from managers than men. While 46% of men say they receive difficult feedback, only 36% of women do. Managers say the biggest reason they fail to give women feedback is a fear of being mean or hurtful.
The stereotype of the “queen bee” insinuates that women who seek out and obtain power—whether in the workplace, in politics, or even in high school—tend to hurt rather than help their female peers, keeping other women down in order to preserve their own privileged positions. Sheryl Sandberg, who knows a thing or two about being a powerful woman, is having none of that; in a New York Times op-ed co-authored with Wharton professor Adam Grant, Sandberg debunks the myth that women don’t help each other:
According to the queen bee theory, a female senior manager should have a more negative impact on the other women trying to climb into professional ranks. When strategy professors studied the top management of the Standard & Poor’s 1,500 companies over 20 years, they found something that seemed to support the notion. In their study, when one woman reached senior management, it was 51 percent less likely that a second woman would make it.
But the person blocking the second woman’s path wasn’t usually a queen bee; it was a male chief executive. When a woman was made chief executive, the opposite was true. In those companies, a woman had a better chance of joining senior management than when the chief executive was a man.