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McKinsey & Company is a world-renowned organization which advises and assists global corporations in several key functions. McKinsey’s carries out research on topics of corporate relevance and publishes reports based on data collected from world over.
McKinsey’s took up the subject of Women in the Workplace in 2015 and has been following it up consistently. To my knowledge, this is the most authentic research on the subject done at this scale.
Every year, McKinsey publishes an update of research. I am giving below excerpts from 2019 report. The report has been compiled by Jess Huang, Alexis Krivkovich, Irina Starikova, Lareina Yee, and Delia Zanoschi.[quote] This year marks the fifth year of our research on women in the workplace, conducted in partnership with LeanIn.Org. We look back on data and insights since 2015 from close to 600 companies that participated in the study, more than a quarter of a million people that were surveyed on their workplace experiences, and more than 100 in-depth one-on-one interviews that were conducted. In the last five years, we’ve seen more women rise to the top levels of companies. An increasing number of companies are seeing the value of having more women in leadership, and they’re proving that they can make progress on gender diversity. This is an important step in the right direction. Still, women continue to be underrepresented at every level. To change the numbers, companies need to focus where the real problem is. [unquote]
Despite progress, the big problem remains that women are still underrepresented at all levels. Why is the progress? And why is the problem still there?
More and more companies are learning through their own experience and through others’ experience that women leaders bring greater transparency, integrity, stability and equality. The overall value system, work environment and company culture are strengthened. Another report demonstrated that in the US, states with women leadership fared better in COVID19 as compared to states governed by men. The specific attributes women bring to leadership will be subject of another blogpost.
The reason that gender parity is still is a faraway goal is the result of the way promotions are considered and affected in organizations. Europe and US have the kind of diversity which we do not see in Pakistan. In those countries, there are multiple ethnicities, races, colors, religions, which stand out as original as well as a mix. There is a term commonly used to describe the barrier to women getting into more senior position; it is called the Glass Ceiling. It is an apt description; one could see up through the glass ceiling but cannot pass through it. It is an invisible barrier, but it is strong enough to keep women from growing.
McKinsey report suggests that there are signs that the glass ceiling is cracking. This is evident from more women becoming senior leaders as compared to the past years. In 2015, only 29% of surveyed companies had three or more women in C-suite while now the number of such companies has gone up to 44%. It is a commendable change, but the report points to the other area which they term as ‘Broken Rung’.
Career ladder is a common term to describe opportunity for upward progression. Scaling up will be smooth if all rungs on the ladder are intact. But if some are broken, progress gets stalled and may become hazardous. For women, it is much harder to step up the first rung; becoming manager from staff. Most women are denied this step for a host of reasons. In Pakistan, our major concerns are freedom of movement and freedom of social interactions. On this pretext, we keep refusing women from becoming managers. Granted, these are tangible issues, but the actual problem is that we have a centuries old mold, into which we try to fit everyone. Even all men do not fit there. During the last 30 years, we have not redesigned jobs to accommodate this great reality. We are still insisting on fitting square pegs in round holes and our failure offends us but does not enlighten us to find pragmatic solutions. This is creating broken rungs for both genders; much more for women than men. Unless the broken rung is fixed, further progress cannot be made.
Pakistan has also seen an increase in the number of women going to senior positions, but the process is highly selective and patchy. For example, HR is a domain where women have successfully replaced men in more developed organizations. It is not a strategic move as such, but women in HR is an effort on both sides. Women consider it to be more suitable for them, and the management considers this is one place where they can put more women and feel good that they are bringing diversity to organization.
McKinsey gives recommendations for fixing the broken rung. We shall see those and their relevance to our corporate landscape next.
To be Continued……