Welcome back to The RecruitingDaily Podcast! We have a very special episode today where we’ll discuss findings from the 2021 Women in the Workplace Study with Jess Huang of McKinsey & Company and Archana Gilravi of Lean In.Org.

Women in the Workplace is the most extensive study on the case of women in the corporate US. Based on data from 423 organizations employing 12 million people, this year’s release features data from nearly 400 CHROs, an overview of the benefits and risks of remote work, best practices for bias elimination and data-driven stories of experiences from women of differing backgrounds.

Jess Huang, partner at McKinsey & Company, partners with consumer-facing companies to help them develop and flourish in an changing and demanding landscape. She’s passionate about gender diversity and an author on McKinsey’s research on women in the workplace.

Archana Gilravi, vice president at Lean In Programs & Partnerships, who partnered with McKinsey & Company to conduct the research for the 2021 Women in the Workplace Study. She’s an industrious and innovative general manager with over 18 years of driving prosperous teams, launching new companies and solving difficult problems.

A few things we discuss today: What is the breadth and depth of the sample size used to build this data? What does recognition for women look like during the COVID era after disproportionately stepping up? Why are men being advanced more rapidly than women during a time when women have proven to take the lead in organizations?

There’s more, of course! But you have to listen to find out. Make sure to drop your thoughts in the comments.

Listening Time: 32 minutes

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Archana Gilravi & Jess Huang
Vice President, Lean In.Org & Partner, McKinsey & Company 2021 Women in the Workplace Study

Archana and Jess composed significant contributions to the 2021 Women in the Workplace Study, the most extensive research on the case of women in corporate America. Data from 423 organizations gives us an overview of the benefits and risks of remote work, best practices for bias elimination and data-driven stories of experiences from women of differing backgrounds.

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Music:  00:00

This is RecruitingDaily’s RecruitingLive Podcast, where we look at the strategies behind the world’s best talent acquisition teams. We talk recruiting, sourcing, and talent acquisition. Each week, we take one overcomplicated topic and break it down so that your three-year-old can understand it. Makes sense? Are you ready to take your game to the next level? You’re at the right spot. You’re now entering the mind of a hustler. Here’s your host, William Tincup.

William:  00:33

Ladies and gentlemen, this is William Tincup. You are listening to the RecruitingDaily Podcast. Today, we have Jess Huang from McKinsey & Co and Archana. I am going to just picture her name and she will help me with it. She’s from Lean In.Org. We’re actually going to be talking about the findings from their most recent 2021 Women in the Workplace Study, which I can’t wait to kind of both talk about how they went about it, also the findings, and what they learned. So without any further ado, Jess, once you start introduce yourself, and then if anyone isn’t familiar with McKinsey & Company, you could probably do that as well. We’ll do the same thing with Arcana.

Jess:  01:21

Great. Thanks, William. It’s so nice to be here with you today. I’m Jess. I am a partner at McKinsey & Company. I live here in the Bay Area and I’m one of the authors, The Woman in the Workplace Report. I have worked on this research for a few years now, and it’s always a fascinating and very insightful piece of work, and very excited to talk to you about it today.

William:  01:47

Fantastic. Archana?

Archana:  01:51

Yes. Thanks, William. Yeah, it is pronounced Archana. Appreciate that journey, appreciate you try. I lead Partnerships and Company Programs for the Sheryl Sandberg & Dave Goldberg Foundation. We have two main [inaudible 00:02:08] that we run, which is the Lean In side, as well as the OptionB side. On the Lean In side, we’re really working to help create a more gender-equal world and this report is a really key piece of that. Very excited to be here today to talk about our findings.

William:  02:24

Let’s follow this up to, what did you find? Because I will ask the question of what surprised you and what did you already think about and validate the things that you already knew existed, et cetera. Well, I really want the audience to understand the breadth and depth of your sample size and things like that.

William:  02:47

But there’s always something that surprises. When you do research like this, it comes back. You’re like, “Huh.” There’s something like that. Just want you to start and take us into the findings and then we’ll get into some of the things that you learned from it that shocked you, maybe surprised you, and some of the things that maybe didn’t surprise you.

Jess:  03:12

Yeah. I think the first thing that we found, which in some ways had elements of surprise. But in other ways, maybe expected, but didn’t quite expect the magnitude to which we saw it in the data. Was that when men really, during this time, during the last year-and-a-half of the pandemic, have stepped up to be leaders that companies really needed. They’ve done a lot in the workplace to ensure that their employees could work effectively by helping them navigate work-life challenges, manage their workloads, provide emotional support. They’ve done disproportionately more compared to their male peers and investing in diversity, equity, and inclusion.

Jess:  04:03

We heard this from their employees. Employees told us that women leaders were doing more of this. We heard from companies that it really mattered. Overwhelmingly, almost 90% of companies told us that the importance of prioritizing employees’ well-being throughout the pandemic was critical. I think the part that was so stark and surprising to us is that only a quarter formally recognized this work. So despite this work being critical based on what companies were telling us, based on the impact that we know employees were having, being less burnt out and less likely to leave, this work wasn’t being recognized. It was really important work that women leaders did during this time.

William:  04:57

Check me if I’m wrong, both of you. Women stepped up at a time when we needed them most, and it’s recognized in terms of the employees recognized it. But senior leadership, the board, et cetera, maybe even their peers, didn’t recognize it on the same level. What is recognition in for y’all? What does it look like? What form are we thinking about?

Jess:  05:23

Yeah, that’s a great question. When we talked about recognition and we talked about formal recognition, we thought about this in terms of being built into performance reviews or somehow being rewarded for it. What we actually found was that, employees know it makes a difference in their day-to-day lives. They’re happier and they’re less burned out. Companies know what’s important and they recognize the importance. But when it comes to actually building into the performance review, the impact of these additional hours, all this extra effort that women leaders are putting in, it’s not showing at.

William:  06:11

That’s disabling. I mean, it’s dumb on some levels. It’s just really kind of dumb way to manage a business if someone’s actually helping you through both a crisis, but also helping you keep the employees, keep them focused, keep everyone productive, et cetera. That’s just kind of dumb to not recognize them both in a formal way, but promotions and bonuses and all the other kind of things that come along with that.

William:  06:43

Archana, what do you think when you look at that one side? The organizations have to be proud. People in the organization stepped up because as we all know is a crazy time and somebody had to step up. Okay, check, women disproportionately stepped up. At the same, time they didn’t get the credit or the recognition that was due to them. What’s your take on that?

Archana:  07:17

Yeah. Thanks. It’s interesting what just said. For me, I think what was surprising about the report, it’s actually a part of a broader theme where companies are signaling that DEI is important, that employee well-being is important, and that racial equity is important. But what we’re seeing is that these words are not translating into actions and to me, that’s a big problem. To do what just said, that’s happening on the women leaders front in terms of not recognizing and rewarding the extra efforts that women are really putting forward to ensure that employee well-being is front and center.

Archana:  07:57

But in addition to that is that, what we are seeing is that the experiences of women of color at work are not [crosstalk 00:08:04]. Women of color continue to face significant bias and discrimination at work, at rates similar to what we saw two years ago. To me, there’s this huge disconnect and companies signaling that this work is important, but not taking the concrete actions to really make the changes so that women of color are really feeling the changes on the ground.

William:  08:30

Well, this would have been a wonderful moment to show, separate the words from actions. Everyone’s going to say diversity is important. Everyone’s going to say gender equity and pay is important. But they had a moment where they actually could have shown that it was important. Again, the moment was presented and they didn’t take advantage of this magical moment which we’ll call a crisis. People died, I’m not downplaying that. But there was this magical moment that companies could have used as a moment of saying, “You know what? This is a great time for us to then recognize people.” A dumb question alert. I’ll just put that out there.

William:  09:26

Do you mean demand? The recognition in a way either intrinsically or explicitly or implicitly, do men do that and does that even factor in? Because I’m wondering, I’m just putting myself in the situation. I’m thinking to myself, “Okay. If I recognize what the employees recognize, and I was one of those leaders that stepped up. Would I be beating my chest in telling everybody about all the great work that I did or what I led the work, just kind of stand on its own?” I honestly can’t answer, I don’t know what I would do. But do you think that it has any play at all here?

Jess:  10:15

I think that’s a really interesting question, William. That’s not something that we looked for or asked for in the data. What we do know though, and I think years and years of research backs this up is that in general, when companies measure something, when companies decide that something is worth incentivizing for tracking, that’s when it gets done.

Jess:  10:46

What I think we’re seeing here is a little bit of, to Archana’s point, high intent but it not translate into action. Partly because companies haven’t put into place the metrics, the tracking, and the performance review infrastructure that they’ve put into place for a lot of other aspects of their business quite frankly, right?

William:  11:15


Archana:  11:15

I agree with Jess. The only thing I’ll add to that is from research in a couple of years ago, we see is that women raised their hands just as often as men. They ask for promotions at the same rates and they ask for raises at the same rates. My sense is that it’s not that women are not asking for it. I agree with Jess that it’s just, it’s not being recognized as valuable work as a part of the process.

William:  11:40

It’s crazy. Again, your point about women of color or y’all know the stats better than I do, but the people that were let go and the furloughed at the end of ’20 is disproportionate to women of color. How could you go through this process and not look? Again, it’s probably a measurement thing to Jess’s point. If you’re looking at the, “Why would you ever have a disproportionate effect and why would that be that way?” We woke up in January or February. I was like, “Oh, we’re surprised that women of color were disproportionately furloughed.” There shouldn’t be a surprise there, but that’s actually something we should have some insight into. [crosstalk 00:12:34] Oh, go ahead. I’m sorry.

Archana:  12:38

[crosstalk 00:12:38] I think you’re right, William. In a sense of, if organizations are not tracking where they’re at, when it comes to women of color at every step of that corporate pipeline, I think it’s easy to kind of wake up in one morning and say, “Oh, what happened? What’s going on here?” One of the things that we’ve seen is that companies have done a better job of incorporating some metrics when it comes to hiring. But what they haven’t done is incorporate that same level of rigor to the performance review process.

Archana:  13:11

We see that women entered the workforce at about 48, 50%, but at each step of that corporate pipeline, their representation goes down. So when you get to the C-suite, you only have about 25% of women in the C-suite. Right. What’s happening is that men are being disproportionately promoted each step of that corporate pipeline and again, you’re not having those same processes in place to make sure that that’s being taken a look at in a fair and equitable way.

William:  13:44

It’s right there in internal mobility and outplacement if you apply the same rigor to all of those things. To promotions, internal mobility, all of those things. Basically, you can balance things out, you still got to make things here, still got to make up. We’re a hundred years late on a lot of these things. What’s the second finding? The second major finding that y’all ever had?

Jess:  14:15

I think another really big finding that we found was the fact that all employees are more burned out than they were a year ago, check. I don’t think that pricing at all, but the gap. The burnout gap between women and men has nearly doubled. Burnout for women has accelerated much faster in the last year than it has for men. When you couple that, with some of the other things we’ve just been talking about in today’s environment, given this war for talent, this is really dangerous for companies. They could be losing the very women who are the ones investing all of that energy into ensuring their teams are not burned out, into ensuring that they are creating an inclusive environment. Losing out on these women who are very burned out, having them leave, go to another company, go to another industry, could have really, really detrimental ripple effects at companies.

William:  15:27

The two could be linked together. If you stepped up and you gave the effort, you wind up above and beyond the job description, if you will. People didn’t recognize that. I mean, your employees did, but everyone else didn’t. Not only does that make you feel bad about what you did, but also it makes you more open as a passive candidate, is you’re more open to other messages from other companies that want to recruit you. I could see that being a factor or that could be a contributing factor. It’s like, “Okay. Well, I just went through hell in a handbasket if you will and no one recognized it. Now, I have this other company that’s interested in me. Maybe they’ll recognize me differently than this company does.”

William:  16:21

Let me ask. What do you think the contributing factors to burnout were for women disproportionally for men? In terms of like, was there effort as a work-life balance? What led outside of the obvious stuff for all those being burned out?

William:  16:44

Archana, what do you think that lead to burnout disproportionally? That’s just the thing that sticks with me. Everyone’s burned out, but it’s just disproportionate to women.

Archana:  16:56

Yeah. I’ll see a couple of things. Inside the office, what Jess had mentioned is that, women leaders are two times as likely as male leaders are to spend time doing the DEI work outside of their formal job responsibilities. Women are taking up more time, more energy to both do the important DE and I work and to provide additional emotional support for their teams.

Archana:  17:26

On top of that, especially if you’re a more senior leader, you’re much more likely to have a family at home. You’re point, you’re pulling double duty and we know that women by and large, tend to do more of the housework, tend to do more of the childcare. We’ve seen that through COVID, but that’s disproportionately impacting women more than men. I think the combination of what’s happening in the workplace, the additional responsibilities of a DE and I work, it’s just taking that on in addition to what’s happening at the home is contributing to a lot of the burnout.

William:  17:59

If companies don’t recognize that fast enough, what do you think that that leads to?

Archana:  18:05

Yeah. I mean, I am concerned that women are going to leave the workforce at higher rates or that they’re not able to kind of like bring their best selves to work. I think individual companies were not recognizing it and will likely face higher attrition than companies who are actually taking the time to recognize it.

William:  18:25

You brought up a really interesting point in terms of not bringing their best self to work, that they’re tired. Obviously, we’re all tired. You disproportionally put effort and help and be there emotionally for everyone. Again, what engagement typically unlocks as everyone probably knows is discretionary effort, what you’ve done as a company as you’ve disabled discretionary effort in this case. What thoughts do you have in terms of what led us to here and what do you see leading to?

Jess:  19:08

Yeah. Well, I’m just reflecting on everything Archana just said. What she mentioned earlier about women of traditionally marginalized identities, such as women of color experiencing microaggressions at such higher frequencies. William, you mentioned being able to bring your best self to work. Just imagine being a woman of color and potentially by the way, the only woman and the only person of color on your team, a double only is what we call them. That’s one in eight women of color, by the way. That means you were two to three times as likely to experience disrespectful behavior on a day-to-day basis. Have someone interrupt you, have someone question your judgment in an area of expertise, show surprise at your language skills, all of these things. How exhausting must that be? How could you bring your best self to work if that is what your day-to-day is?

William:  20:20

Yeah. That’s not even his job. Then you still got to do the job, job.

Jess:  20:23

Exactly, exactly. Something that we found in our research that is really encouraging despite all of this is that we know that when people show up as allies for women of color, and when these women of color have allies at their team, their experiences are more similar to women overall. They are less likely to experience as many microaggressions. They are less likely to be burned out and they’re more likely to be happy at their job.

Jess:  20:58

Then the question is, why don’t more of them have allies? I think what we found in our research this year was that it’s because there is a big and widening gap between stated allyship and actual allyship actions. We found that 77% of white employees say that they are allies. For example, only 21% of them regularly advocate for women of color and their opportunities. That’s the most important thing they could be doing, the most effective allyship actions that women of color tell us white employees could be taking.

William:  21:43

Again, it’s the separation between words and actions. We’ve talked about pay equity for 40 years, and we’re still not at a place where it’s even respectable. Same thing with diversity. I mean, we’ve been talking in HR and recruiting, especially about diversity forever. It’s nice that there’s more budget. It’s nice that there’s more programs that are happening, so it seems like there’s things that are happening now. The data, y’all do a report next year. It’ll be interesting to see what if the needle was moved or not. Archana, do you have anything to add to that particular finding?

Archana:  22:24

Yeah. Thanks William. You had mentioned, what are companies doing? They’ve increased their budgets and then where is this money going towards? It’s no surprise that we see this gap on allyship because only 14% of employees have gone through allyship training in the past year. Employees want to be allies and they fundamentally don’t know how. For that, I think the onus is back on the companies to be able to provide that level of training and to be able to provide that level of training for everybody.

Archana:  22:58

As someone who has run trainings in the past, it’s interesting to me where I get a lot of pushback around trainings being mandatory. Mandatory seems like a very dirty word when it comes to training and the people that I see in the room are already the people who are doing the work and where these trainings really need to reach are the people who are not doing the work and really needing to understand what that means, what those actions look like, and how to take those actions.

William:  23:27

It’s a playoff, the inequity that just spoke about. You can’t imagine an organization not training the BDRs or their sales team. You just can’t imagine someone that would come in and just develop their own sales process or harvesting process. Like of course, you just said, “Training is mandatory.”

William:  23:47

But for some reason, this because of its priority or being deprioritized, it’s not being placed as mandatory. It’s optional. Again, you’re not going to fix it if it’s optional.

Archana:  24:02


William:  24:04

Just take us into the third and major funding from the study.

Jess:  24:11

I think the last thing, and Archana started hinting at this is, one of the benefits of us doing this research year over year, and this is our seventh year of doing it is that, we’ve started to be able to track companies over time. We have started to see that some companies are making more progress than others. They’ve led the pack and consistent improvements in representation year over year. Improvements in representation for women of color, improvements at that first step up to manager that Archana mentioned in terms of promotion rates.

Jess:  24:51

So it gave us the ability to say, “Hey, these solutions, these things that we say and know that companies should be doing actually have impact,” because the companies who have made the most progress over the last few years are doing these things. They are tracking diversity metrics. They’re holding leaders accountable.

Jess:  25:19

Some cases actually tying their outcomes to financial incentives or penalties. They are specifically trying to combat bias and performance reviews, not just hiring, to Archana’s point. They’re doing things like putting in place other structural supports like onsite childcare, leave, mental health resources, to take care of their employee well-being.

Jess:  25:45

I think the last thing that we were sort of encouraged by in our data is that we know that companies can make progress. We know that if companies double down, put the effort in day in and day out and take action, that over time, you’ll see improvement.

William:  26:07

So they can. Archana, what’s the barrier for those that have made the choice to either not or other choices, other focus, other initiatives, et cetera? Why don’t they see what others have done or the other companies not sharing what they’re doing? Is it that the information isn’t available or is it that they’re not putting the time, money, and energy into actually making the changes that need to be made?

Archana:  26:40

Yeah. William, I think it’s the latter. I think the information is really out there, it’s very clear, the what that needs to happen in order to improve the DEI at companies. I’m not saying that it’s easy. I know that it is hard work and it does take time, but that’s what it is. It is really hard work, so companies really need to prioritize it. That prioritization really needs to start at the CEO level.

Archana:  27:06

Is your CEO behind this? Is the HR and the chief diversity officer organizations properly resourced how are you investing in it? How are you tuning it like any other business priority? Quite frankly, when you look at the business priorities that are put in place, typically like revenue is prioritized and lowering costs is prioritized, this doesn’t take as higher priority as it should when you take a look at some of the others.

William:  27:38

One thing is that some companies can progress because you’ve got seven years of data so you can see that some key companies can progress. Have you already or are you looking at those companies in the marketplace and how they’re doing? Whether or not it’s publicly traded, you can kind of see their market cap are those companies that are making those changes and they’re progressing which is fantastic. Are they also producing? Is there a dot to dot that y’all have already found or that you’d like to discover?

Jess:  28:20

Yeah, that’s a great question. In our Women in the Workplace research, we haven’t been able with our sample to get to that bad analysis. But we, at McKinsey, have done other analysis that is in the direction you’re going William which is, “Does diversity payoff from a business standpoint?” And the answer is, “Yes.” We’ve done this research over a few years now and we’ve found that ethnically-diverse and gender-diverse companies are 36% and 25% more likely to outperform respectively.

William:  28:59

Wow. I sold. For the C-suite, why wouldn’t you prioritize this if for no other reason?

Jess:  29:08

That it’s good for business.

William:  29:09

That it’s good for business. Again, you don’t have to be philanthropic. Last question before we go and we’re going to link back to the research and all that stuff. What’s the play with societal pressure? The things that we’ve seen just over the last few years from me to Love is Love, Black Lives Matter, George Floyd, et cetera. How do you think that’s impacted companies in terms of lip service versus action? Archana?

Archana:  29:39

Yeah. I think it’s really increased the lip service. This year, we’re seeing that a much higher percentage of companies are actually saying that MDI is really important to them and it’s kind of at the forefront. Many more companies are saying that because quite honestly, I don’t think you cannot say that in this environment. But then, that gap between what you were saying and what you were doing continues to widen. Both at the company level, as well as the individual employee level.

William:  30:14

I’ve seen that on the recruiting side that people are mentioning and putting it in their job descriptions, but then it’s not married up with what’s actually going on behind the veil in terms of hiring. Jess, do you have a take on that?

Jess:  30:29

I think overall it’s just underscores the fact that the importance of these topics is not going to go away. The future talent cares about this, we know that. We know that for the most part, consumers care about this. If you are a brand out there and you want to resonate with consumers, you need to be paying attention to this topic as well.

William:  30:59

Yeah. If for no other reason, then it’s in your best interest. This has been amazing. Thank you so much. I know you’re crazy busy, but your research is amazing and I can’t wait for people to dive into it. Again, look at next year and hope it’s better. Y’all will be able to tell us whether or not it is or isn’t. Thank you both for being here.

Archana:  31:23

Of course [crosstalk 00:31:24].

Jess:  31:23

Thanks, William.

Archana:  31:25

Yeah. Thanks for having us.

William:  31:26

Thanks for listening to the RecruitingDaily Podcast. Until next time.

Music:  31:31

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William Tincup

William is the President & Editor-at-Large of RecruitingDaily. At the intersection of HR and technology, he’s a writer, speaker, advisor, consultant, investor, storyteller & teacher. He's been writing about HR and Recruiting related issues for longer than he cares to disclose. William serves on the Board of Advisors / Board of Directors for 20+ HR technology startups. William is a graduate of the University of Alabama at Birmingham with a BA in Art History. He also earned an MA in American Indian Studies from the University of Arizona and an MBA from Case Western Reserve University.


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