Companies have blind spots when it comes to gender diversity

Largest study of women in the workplace shows little progress is being made

According to Women in the Workplace 2017, a comprehensive annual report by on the state of women in corporate America, which is done by McKinsey & Company and LeanIn.Org, women remain significantly underrepresented at every level in corporate America—and women of colour face an even more dramatic drop-off at senior levels. Among other things, it states that only one in five C-suite leaders is a woman, and fewer than one in thirty is a woman of colour. 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. 

Many people seem to have blind spots when it comes to diversity, thinking 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.

"We can't unlock the full potential of the workplace until we see how far from equality we really are," said Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook COO and founder of LeanIn.Org. "We need to resist the temptation to settle for the status quo and do more to build diverse teams and inclusive workplaces. This is not just about fairness, but also about building more prosperous companies and a strong economy for us all."

Drawing on pipeline data from 222 companies employing more than 12 million people, the 2017 report shows that women remain significantly underrepresented at every level in corporate America—and women of color face an even more dramatic drop-off at senior levels. 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. 

Many men don't fully grasp the state of women in the workplace. More than 60 percent of men say that their company is doing what it takes to improve gender diversity, while only 49 percent of women agree. Fifty percent of men say managers consider a diverse lineup of candidates to fill open positions, compared to just 35 percent of women. Further, men are less personally committed to gender diversity, and some even worry that diversity efforts disadvantage them.

Many companies also overlook the realities of women of colour. Women of colour face more obstacles and a steeper path to leadership, from receiving less support from managers to getting promoted more slowly. This negatively affects how they view the workplace and their opportunities for advancement—and is particularly acute for Black women.