Gender parity at work is still decades away, if it ever comes at all. Why? Part of the problem is that men and women look at the same world and see different things.
Almost half of men (44%) say women would be “well represented” at their company if just one in 10 senior leaders were female. Only 22% of women agree with that. These findings come from McKinsey and LeanIn.org, via their annual report on women in the workplace, based on a survey of 65,800 people at 329 companies.
And this is actually an improvement, says Alexis Krivkovich, a senior partner at McKinsey’s San Francisco office. In previous years, an even larger share of men thought women were well represented in company leadership — even when company-specific data showed that wasn’t true. And men today are more likely to say gender diversity is a “high personal priority” than they were in 2015.
Yet to the extent that men are becoming more aware that the gender gap at the top is a problem, they still disagree with women about what’s causing it. Men are most likely to say the trouble is “too few qualified women in the pipeline.”
Women point to different causes. Forty percent say women are judged by different standards. (Only 14% of men see it that way.) Nineteen percent of women correctly perceive that junior women are less likely than junior men to get that first promotion into management. (Only 7% of men see that.) And 32% of women say women lack sponsors to champion their work. (Only 12% of men agree.)
This last problem is especially troubling for two reasons: First, the scarcity of sponsors for women has been linked with stalled careers in study after study. And second, the men who responded to McKinsey’s survey themselves revealed a real reluctance to sponsor or mentor junior women. In January 2018, months before the deluge of #MeToo stories began with the New York Times’s reporting on Harvey Weinstein, 46% of men said they’d be uncomfortable mentoring a younger female. By March 2019, after the Weinstein revelations, that figure had risen to 60% percent. In fact, they’re now 12 times as likely as they once were to hesitate to have even a one-on-one meeting with a younger female colleague.
Think of that: Senior men don’t think women have a problem finding sponsors to help them win plum assignments and promotions, but they themselves admit to balking at spending any one-on-one time with the women they’re responsible for championing. “There’s this urban myth that gosh, somehow in this post-MeToo workplace, women have become dangerous or scary,” says David Smith, an associate professor of sociology at the Naval War College and co-author of “Athena Rising,” a book about men who mentor women. “They might just decide to falsely accuse us of sexual harassment. There’s no evidence to support that. As men we need to push back on each other when we hear that.”
And when men refuse to mentor women, those women go without mentors. There aren’t enough senior women to pick up the slack.
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