Companies can start to overcome that by setting goals and measuring progress, the Lean In founder writes—and by encouraging women to keep negotiating
A freelance film director recently described walking into a negotiation. She was ready: She had armed herself with stats and evidence and had practiced her pitch. But instead of diving into why she deserved the project—and the money that came along with it—she began with the following: “I just want to say up front that I’m going to negotiate, and the research shows that you’re going to like me less when I do.”
She could see the wheels turning in the minds of her colleagues. But she was right. When women ask for what they deserve, they often face social pushback—and are viewed as “bossy” or “aggressive” simply for asking. So she came up with a solution: Call out the bias before it could surface. It worked.
The “too aggressive” penalty is just one of the findings from Women in the Workplace 2016, a study by LeanIn.Org and McKinsey & Co. being released today. Based on a survey of 132 companies employing more than 4.6 million people, the study is, to our knowledge, the most comprehensive annual review of women in corporate America.
Last year’s report concluded that we were 100 years away from gender equality in the C-suite. A year later, we’re not much closer—and that is not just bad for women, it’s bad for our companies and our economy. Women are still underrepresented at every corporate level and hold less than 30% of roles in senior management. And women hit the glass ceiling early: They are far less likely than men to be promoted from entry level to manager, and they continue to lose ground incrementally the more senior they become. This gap in female leadership is not due to attrition; in fact, women and men are leaving their companies at about the same rate.
As one might expect, these challenges are more pronounced for women of color: They make up the most underrepresented group in the corporate pipeline and experience the deepest drop-offs in middle and senior management—despite the fact that women of color are more likely than white women to say they want to be top executives.
There is some encouraging news. Women are now negotiating for raises and promotions as often as their male peers—defying the conventional wisdom that women don’t ask. Perhaps not surprisingly, women who ask for a promotion are far more likely to get one than women who don’t. However, women still aren’t faring as well as men: On average, they are less likely to be promoted.
Of course, the challenge is how to break down the stereotypes that cause people to dislike women when they make that ask. Women who negotiate are 67% more likely than women who don’t to receive feedback that their personal style is “intimidating,” “too aggressive,” or “bossy,” and they are more likely to receive that kind of feedback than men who negotiate.
The reason for this pushback lies in many of the unconscious assumptions we all hold about women and men. We expect men to be assertive, look out for themselves, and lobby for more—so there’s little downside when they do it. But women must be communal and collaborative, nurturing and giving, focused on the team and not themselves, lest they be viewed as self-absorbed. So when a woman advocates for herself, people often see her unfavorably.
The problem isn’t just in the asking. Women face an uphill battle right from the start. They have less access to senior-level sponsors and get less feedback on their performance, despite asking for it as frequently as men. Women in our survey are more likely to say that they don’t receive challenging assignments and that they struggle with being recognized for their ideas and contributions. So not surprisingly, women are almost three times as likely as men to think their gender will make it harder to get a raise, promotion or chance to get ahead.
These things matter—not just for women, but for us all. Research shows that gender equality is as good for business as it is for individuals. Diverse teams and companies produce better results and higher revenue and profits, which lead to more opportunity for everyone, not just women.
We believe that leaders want to do what’s right—and it’s heartening to see so many companies choosing to participate in this study. Seventy-eight percent of them report that gender diversity is a top-10 priority for their CEO. But while companies are highly committed to solving the problem, they are struggling to put their commitment into practice. Only half of managers say they know what to do to improve gender diversity, and only a quarter of employees report that their managers frequently challenge biased language or behavior when it happens. Although 93% of companies report they use clear criteria for hiring and promotions, only 57% of employees say this is true in practice.
This report is a reminder, yet again, of how much is left to do.
There are steps that companies can take right now, starting with measuring progress. Although most companies track the gender breakdown of their hiring and promotions, fewer than 35% set targets—and it’s harder to make progress when you don’t have clear goals in place.
Companies also need to make a stronger case for gender diversity, explaining why it matters and how it benefits everyone. They can invest in gender-bias training—especially for managers, who make many of the decisions that affect women’s daily work experience and career progression. Companies can also encourage everyone, from entry-level employees to leaders, to talk openly about gender stereotypes and provide women with more leadership opportunities, access to sponsors, and recognition for their contributions.
And all of us can encourage women to keep negotiating—until the day that it’s seen as perfectly normal, and even expected, for women to ask for more.
More women are leaning in—and we’ll all go farther when the workplace stops pushing back.
Ms. Sandberg is the chief operating officer of Facebook Inc. and the founder of LeanIn.Org. Rachel Thomas, president of Lean In, contributed to this essay.
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