Gen­der gap at early work stages

Study shows more men get pro­moted to man­age­rial jobs

Baltimore Sun - - BUSINESS - By Jena McGregor

By now, the statis­tics are well known, if still un­set­tling: Women make up less than 5 per­cent of the CEOs at the big­gest cor­po­ra­tions. Just un­der 20 per­cent of di­rec­tors at S&P 500 com­pa­nies are fe­male. Only 18 per­cent of com­puter science de­grees are awarded to women, and un­der 30 per­cent of the science and en­gi­neer­ing work­force is fe­male.

To try and im­prove those con­sis­tently low num­bers, high-pro­file ini­tia­tives have been tak­ing aim at them, from the Rock­e­feller Foun­da­tion’s ini­tia­tive to get 100 fe­male CEOs in the For­tune 500 to Melinda Gates’ newly an­nounced de­ci­sion to ded­i­cate more re­sources to get­ting women into tech.

Yet, while at­ten­tion has been show­ered on those im­por­tant, widely cov­ered prob­lems — the lack of women in lead­er­ship po­si­tions and the rar­ity of women in STEM fields — there’s an­other pipe­line prob­lem that doesn’t get nearly as much time in the spot­light. And while it’s per­sis­tent and per­va­sive it stands to be fixed much more eas­ily than the oth­ers.

For ev­ery 130 men who are pro­moted from the en­try level ranks to man­ager, a new re­port showed, just 100 women are pro­moted at sim­i­lar lev­els. That num­ber, in­cluded in the com­pre­hen­sive an­nual study on women in the work­force by McKin­sey & Co. and LeanIn.org, the or­ga­ni­za­tion founded by Face­book ex­ec­u­tive Sh­eryl Sand­berg, is a re­minder of the yawn­ing gap that men and women face even at the ear­li­est stages of their ca­reers.

First re­ported in The Wall Street Jour­nal, the study Face­book’s Sh­eryl Sand­berg founded LeanIn.org, which con­ducted the study on women at work with McKin­sey & Co. gath­ered data on pro­mo­tions and ca­reers of em­ploy­ees at 132 com­pa­nies and sur­veyed some 34,000 men and women about their ca­reers. It showed that men are 30 per­cent more likely than women to see a pro­mo­tion at this ini­tial jump up the lad­der, not­ing the gap is “the largest” at this early first stage.

“For us, it was a real sur­prise — to see that this first pro­mo­tion is so critical and there’s such a dis­par­ity,” said Alexis Krivkovich, a part­ner at McKin­sey’s San Fran­cisco of­fice. “The pub­lic nar­ra­tive has fo­cused on left of the pipe­line (Do we have women with the de­grees nec­es­sary?) and the right of the pipe­line (Do we have women in se­nior roles?), but it’s un­der­em­pha­sized what hap­pens to women early in their ca­reers.”

What’s driv­ing the gap? Given all the re­search that’s been done on the ef­fect of moth­er­hood on hir­ing and wages for young women, one might think a change in fam­ily roles is be­hind it. But that doesn’t ap­pear to fully ex­plain it, Krivkovich said. What the new data show is that both men and women cite fam­ily bal­ance in equal num­bers as their top worry when asked about why they do or don’t want the next pro­mo­tion. That sug­gests that “this is not just about fam­ily con­cerns,” she said.

The shift from en­try level into man­age­rial jobs typ­i­cally comes about five to six years in, Krivkovich said. That’s be­fore the mid­ca­reer years when height­ened work ex­pec­ta­tions and the in­creased fam­ily de­mands of chil­dren and ag­ing par­ents of­ten re­ally take their toll. Con­ven­tional wis­dom about women’s ca­reers, she said, “sug­gests that’s the real pinch point, but the fact that there’s such a pro­nounced gap right at the out­set sug­gests to us there’s more go­ing on here that com­pa­nies need to ad­dress.”

Mean­while, the re­sponses of men and women re­vealed two very dif­fer­ent ex­pe­ri­ences: In the sur­vey, women said they got con­sulted on fewer im­por­tant de­ci­sions, didn’t get as many stretch as­sign­ments and didn’t feel they could par­tic­i­pate equally in meet­ings. They also had dif­fer­ent ex­pe­ri­ences with feed­back: While men and wom­e­nasked for feed­back in sim­i­lar num­bers, and man­agers thought they gave it out to both, women said they ac­tu­ally re­ceived the kind of critical feed­back that helps them ad­vance much less of­ten than men.

Krivkovich said un­con­scious bias is a cul­prit: “I think bias is a huge piece of it. I think a lot of com­pa­nies think they’ve put in the train­ing, the poli­cies and the lead­er­ship en­gage­ment. What the data sug­gests is those are im­por­tant steps, but some­where in there you haven’t yet solved for the bias un­der­neath that’s get­ting in the way.”

This is hardly the first time that re­searchers have seen a big gap in how of­ten young women see early ca­reer pro­mo­tions. For in­stance, Cat­a­lyst, a non­profit re­search firm, re­ported in 2010 that even when look­ing at grad­u­ates of elite MBA pro­grams women start out be­hind their male peers. Although they ad­justed for things like work ex­pe­ri­ence, in­dus­try and re­gion, men were still more likely than women to hold man­age­rial jobs in their first post-MBA gigs.

It sounds like lit­tle has changed. Sure, more gen­der di­ver­sity in the se­nior ranks could help change cor­po­rate cul­tures so more young women get their first man­age­rial jobs. And hav­ing more women with the right de­grees will help im­prove the pool of en­try level women for pro­mo­tions. But it works the other way too: If women’s ca­reers are slowed down early on or if all those newly minted STEM grads don’t see their early work re­warded in equal fa­vor, the num­bers at the top aren’t go­ing to im­prove any time soon ei­ther.

Per­haps the best ar­gu­ment for why the gap in early pro­mo­tions should get more at­ten­tion is that it could be the eas­i­est to fix. Krivkovich noted that it could take decades to get peo­ple into cer­tain de­grees and years for com­pa­nies to in­crease the num­ber of women at the top if they haven’t built the right in­ter­nal pipe­line. Yet, cor­rect­ing the pro­mo­tion gap is usu­ally about bet­ter ex­e­cu­tion of the pro­grams and poli­cies they al­ready have in place.

JONATHAN LEIBSON/GETTY

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