The coronavirus pandemic has disproportionately affected women in the workplace when compared to their male counterparts, new data shows. As part of LeanIn.org’s study in partnership with consulting firm McKinsey and Co., one in four women are contemplating leaving their careers or downshifting their duties. “These numbers set off alarm bells in our office,” said Rachel Thomas, cofounder and chief executive officer of LeanIn.org. “It can wipe out all of the progress we’ve made in a single year. That’s millions of women.”
In the six-year history of the study, this year is the first that women are contemplating leaving the workforce in larger numbers than their male counterparts. Thomas said that burnout caused by the new normal is forcing them to rethink their careers.
“We did 50 qualitative interviews with women with different backgrounds, some with children, some without. What you heard over and over again was ‘pushed to the limit, can’t keep doing this, don’t want to leave my job but don’t feel like I have a choice,’” Thomas said. “The narrative is women feeling between a rock and a hard place.”
The three groups predominantly affected by the pandemic are mothers, women in senior leadership positions and Black women. Mothers have historically been challenged by negative outlooks on their work and priorities, called “the motherhood penalty” by sociologists, but Thomas said shifting child-care responsibilities have only amplified negative perceptions of mothers in the workplace. “Mothers are also far more worried than fathers that their performance at work is being judged negatively because of their child-care responsibilities. Not only is it the double-double shift of additional child care and house work, but [mothers] are being judged differently for those caregiving responsibilities,” Thomas said.
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Women at the senior level are also feeling the pressure. “Senior-level women have the same pressure as senior-level men, and then some. They feel more pressure to perform and to work harder, and more likely to be the workforce. That’s the case regardless of motherhood,” Thomas said.
Black women, however, deal with coronavirus-induced burnout while also being disproportionately affected by the pandemic and racist violence, the report said. “Fifty-nine percent of Black women have never had an informal interaction with a senior leader at work. If you don’t have interactions with senior leaders, they’re not going to notice your work, open doors for you,” Thomas said. “If companies are going to do better by women, they have to do better by Black women. They are having an acutely bad experience in the workplace.”
To work against the phenomenon, Thomas recommended companies take an intersectional approach to diversity tracking employees, implement new breaks throughout the day as company norms, and explicating how and why they are investing in Black women.
The issue of women’s advancement in the workplace predates the coronavirus, and is largely due to what Thomas calls a “broken rung” in the corporate ladder. “At that first critical promotion to manager, men are far more likely to get promoted than women. For every 100 men promoted last year to manager, 85 women were, 71 Latina women were, and 58 Black women were,” Thomas said. “At every subsequent level, there’s fewer women to promote. They end up so underrepresented, they literally can never catch up.”
Such is illustrated by the report, which breaks down the percentage of women across various seniority levels in each industry, where women in the c-suite are roughly half the percentage of those in entry-level positions. Below, see industries ranked by percentage of women in entry-level and c-suite positions.
Top 10 Industries for Entry-level Women:
Health-care Systems and Services: 75 percent
Insurance: 64 percent
Retail: 59 percent
Restaurants: 58 percent
Consumer Packaged Goods: 57 percent
Pharmaceuticals and Medical Products: 53 percent
Professional and Information Services: 53 percent
Public and Social Sector: 51 percent
Banking and Consumer Finance: 51 percent
Transportation, Logistics and Infrastructure: 50 percent
Top 10 Industries for C-suite Women:
Public and Social Sector: 34 percent
Media and Entertainment: 34 percent
Consumer Packaged Goods: 30 percent
Professional and Information Services: 30 percent
Health-care Systems and Services: 29 percent
Banking and Consumer Finance: 26 percent
Restaurants: 25 percent
Pharmaceuticals and Medical Products: 24 percent
Insurance: 23 percent
Technology/Software: 21 percent
Source: LeanIn.Org, McKinsey & Co.
Women in the Workplace 2020 Report
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