10/07/21 | Research, Workplace

Key Findings from Women in the Workplace 2021 Report

LeanIn.Org and McKinsey & Company have released findings from the seventh year of Women in the Workplace—the largest study on the state of women in corporate America. This year’s report shows that although we have seen modest gains in women’s representation across the corporate pipeline since 2016, women—and especially women of color—remain dramatically underrepresented at every level of leadership.

Women leaders are stepping up, and going unrecognized

At a time when the stakes have never been higher, women leaders have stepped up to support  employee  well-being and advance diversity, equity, and inclusion in their companies. Their efforts are driving better outcomes for all employees-but they are not getting the recognition they deserve.

Key findings:

  • As a response to this critical moment in time, shaped by the ongoing pandemic and racial reckoning in the United States, companies are prioritizing employee well-being and diversity, equity, and inclusion like never before:
    • 90% of companies say DEI is a top or very important priority.
    • 60% have expanded or added mental health benefits as a response to the pandemic.
  • Women leaders are rising to the moment as strong people-focused leaders and DEI champions:
    • They are stronger people-focused leaders than men at the same level.
      • Women senior leaders are 24% more likely to ensure their teams’ workloads are manageable, 26% more likely to help team members navigate work/life challenges, and 60% more likely to provide emotional support to their teams.
    • They are more likely to be allies to women of color
      • About 61% of women managers regularly practice at least three types of allyship – for example, advocating for women of color and speaking out against bias-compared to 48% of men managers.
  • They are more likely than men at the same level to champion DEI efforts outside their formal job responsibilities
    • About 1 in 5 women senior leaders spends a substantial amount of time on DEI work that is not central to their job, compared to fewer than 1 in 10 men senior leaders.
    • 61% of women who do DEI work outside their formal job say they do so because they believe deeply in the benefits of DEI, compared to 53% of men.
    • Women with marginalized identities are even more likely to do this work (Black women, LGBTQ+ women, and women with disabilities are about twice as likely as women overall to spend a substantial amount of time on DEI work outside their formal job responsibilities).
    • This work is mission-critical-but it’s being overlooked and undervalued, which hurts companies and women:
      • When managers support employee well-being, employees are 25% more likely to be happy at work, 28% less likely to be burned out, and 32% less likely to consider leaving their company
      • When companies prioritize DEI, employees are twice as likely to be happy with their job and company and half as likely to consider leaving their company
      • Companies are signaling a high commitment to employee well-being and DEI, but relatively few are formally recognizing this work
        • 86% say it’s “very or extremely” critical that managers support employee well-being, but only 25% formally recognize this work a substantial amount in performance reviews-and a similar trend holds for DEI work.
  • This critical work is at risk of being relegated to the “new office housework” (i.e., work that contributes to the business but isn’t formally recognized in performance reviews, typically does not lead to advancement, and usually isn’t compensated)
    • This hurts companies and all employees, because progress is rarely made on efforts that go overlooked and undervalued-and it hurts women, who are spending valuable time on this work but not getting credit for it

A year into the pandemic, women are increasingly burned out

It’s too early to tell how the pandemic will affect the representation of women, but it’s clear that women are increasingly burned out. And while we saw important gains in representation of women across most of the corporate pipeline in 2020, concerning trends persist: women still face a “broken rung” at the step up to manager, and women of color are still losing ground at every step.

Key findings:

  • At the end of 2020, women had made modest but important gains in representation at most levels in the corporate pipeline
    • The biggest gains were in the C-suite in 2020, and we saw a small drop in the representation of women at the SVP level.
  • Women continue to face a broken rung at the first step up to manager, although we see relative gains for women of color-for every 100 men promoted to manager in 2020, 89 white women and 85 women of color were promoted, compared 89 white women and 79 women of color in 2019.
    • Because of this broken rung, companies are not set up for sustainable  progress; there are not enough women in middle management to promote to senior leadership.
    • Across seven years of pipeline data, we see the same concerning trend in the corporate pipeline: at every level, women of color lose more ground than white women and men of the same race and ethnicity, which leaves them dramatically underrepresented in leadership.
    • As the pandemic continues, employees-especially women-are increasingly burned out
      • 42% of women say they “often or almost always” feel burned out this year, compared to 32% in 2020.
      • While both men and women are more burned out this year compared to last year, the gap between women and men who say they are burned out has nearly doubled:
        • 42% of women and 35% of men this year report being burned out, versus 32% and 28% last year.
      • 1 in 3 women has considered downshifting their career or leaving the workforce in the past year, compared to 1 in 4 women who were considering this last year.

Women of color continue to have more negative experiences at work

Despite greater awareness of DEI issues and increased focus on DEI and racial equity in corporate America, the day-to-day experiences of women of color show little improvement.

Key findings:

  • Many employees don’t think their company has done enough to advance racial equity:
    • In 2020, almost all companies (93%) made a commitment to increase focus on racial equity, but only 41% of employees-and 35% of women of color-think their company has followed through on this commitment to a substantial extent.
  • Women of color are by and large experiencing the same microaggressions, at similar frequencies, as they were two years ago:
    • Women of color are far more likely than white women to experience disrespectful and othering behavior
      • 18% of Black women, 13% of Latinas, and 11% of Asian women hear surprise at their language skills or other abilities compared to just 5% of white women
      • 17% of Black and Asian women have been confused with someone of the same race and ethnicity, compared to just 4% of white women.
    • About 1 in 8 women of color is a “double Only” (i.e., often the only woman and the only person of their race/ethnicity in the room at work). They are two to three times more likely than women who are not Onlys to experience microaggressions.
  • Women of color are still not getting adequate allyship from more privileged colleagues:
    • Compared to last year, the  gap between  white employees  seeing themselves  as allies to women of color and those taking action has grown
      • 77% of white employees say they’re allies to women of color, but far fewer are acting-only 39% confront discrimination when they see it and only 21% regularly advocate for new opportunities for women of color.
    • There is a disconnect between what white employees see as the more valuable types of allyship and what women of color say makes the biggest difference
  • 44% of women of color say advocating for new opportunities for them is one of the most meaningful allyship actions, while just 28% of white employees say this-and we see a similar disconnect when it comes to mentorship and sponsorship.


The Switch Editorial Team.

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