HR Alert: The Importance of Women in the C-Suite

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Recent reports tell us the importance of women in the workplace shouldn’t be underestimated. Of course, women in the workplace are important from a gender equity perspective, and we’re finding it’s also plainly better for business. A study by the Harvard Business Review reveals that companies with more women in senior positions:

  • are more profitable,
  • are more socially responsible, and
  • provide an overall higher-quality customer experience.

At the end of the day, businesses with greater diversity among senior leadership simply perform better.

Furthermore, a study by the World Economic Forum shows that companies with higher-than-average diversity scores drive more revenue from innovation than companies with below-average diversity scores, by almost 20%. This data undercuts the common practice of companies cutting back on efforts to enhance diversity during times of economic struggle. Rather than cutting back on diversity efforts during financial turmoil, companies would benefit from prioritizing diversity efforts, putting diverse individuals in leadership positions, and getting more women into top-tier positions.

In McKinsey & Company’s annual report on women in the workplace, surveys show that women’s representation in the C-suite – that is, a company’s top-ranking executives and senior management positions – is the highest it’s ever been. However, the report also reveals a persistent underrepresentation of women of color and a lack of progress in the middle of the corporate pipeline.

The State of Women in the Workplace

Since 2015, the number of women in the C-suite has increased from 17% to 28%. During this time, there’s been significant improvement in the representation of women in vice president and senior vice president positions. However, there’s also been slow progress for women at manager and director levels, creating a weak middle ground for female employees. This middle ground represents the vast majority of women in corporate America, so the obviously-weak middle makes it difficult for many women to take the next step in their careers. Moreover, at the director level, women are leaving their positions at a higher rate than previous years – and at a much higher rate than men at the same level.

At nearly every step on the corporate ladder, the representation of women of color falls relative to white men and men of their same race or ethnicity, with women of color being mostly absent from the C-suite. They represent only six percent of C-suite dwellers.

The Myths and Realities of Women in the Workplace

The report by McKinsey & Company also debunks four common myths about the experiences of women in the workplace and their struggle with career advancement. These myths and the respective realities are:

Myth #1: Women are becoming less ambitious.

Reality: Women are more ambitious than before the pandemic – and flexibility is fueling that ambition.

Nine out of 10 women under the age of 30 want to be promoted to the next level and three out of four women ultimately want to become a senior leader in their workplace. Eighty percent of women overall want to be promoted to the next level, 10% more than those who did only five years ago. For women of color, their ambition is even higher – 88% percent of them are looking to climb the ladder.

In terms of flexibility, the pandemic showed women that a new model of balancing work and life was possible; now women are taking more steps to prioritize their personal lives at no cost to their ambition.

Myth #2: The biggest barrier to women’s advancement is the glass ceiling.

Reality: The “broken rung” is the greatest obstacle women face on the path to senior leadership.

Women face the biggest hurdle at the first critical step up to manager. As a result of this, they fall behind and can’t catch up. Due to this gender disparity in early promotions, men end up holding 60% of manager-level positions in the average company. With every step up the corporate ladder, the number of women at that level decreases.

Myth #3: Microaggressions have a minimal impact.

Reality: Microaggressions have a large and lasting impact on women.

Microaggressions are a form of everyday discrimination, typically comments and actions that demean or dismiss someone based on their gender, race, or other aspects of their identity. Women are twice as likely to be mistaken for someone else and to hear comments on their so-called emotional state. Asian and Black women are seven times more likely than White women to be confused with someone of the same race or ethnicity. Women who experience microaggressions are three times more likely to think about quitting their jobs and 400% more likely to always be burned out.

This has created a phenomenon known as code-switching, in which an individual tones down what they say or do in order to blend in and avoid any negative reactions at work. Black women are twice as likely to code switch. LGBTQ+ women are more than twice as likely to feel pressure to change their appearance to be perceived as more professional.

Myth #4: It’s mostly women who want flexible work.

Reality: Men and women see flexibility as a top 3 employee benefit and critical to company success.

Universally, most employees say that the opportunity to work remotely and have control over their schedules are their most preferred company benefit. Mothers of young children benefit greatly from this, as without this flexibility, 38% of mothers say that they would have had to leave their company or reduce their hours.

Women aren’t the only ones who benefit though. Eighty-three percent of all employees cite the ability to work more efficiently and productively as a primary benefit of working remotely. However, companies see this differently: only half of the HR leaders surveyed say employee productivity is a benefit of remote work.

Characteristics of Top-Performing Companies

The report also demonstrates what top-performing companies are putting in place to ensure that women are given equal opportunity to thrive in the workplace.

  • Flexible Work:  measuring the impact of its flexibility policies, implementing policies to ensure equal opportunities for career development regardless of working model, and gathering feedback from employees working flexibly to monitor their experiences.
  • Manager Training: implementing a growth mindset and willingness to evolve as a leader by mentoring those in manager positions, building trusting relationships, and effective communication among teams.
  • Career Development: career development programs, specifically those with tailored content for women of color, are leading businesses to the top. Providing women with the tools they need to succeed and advance in the workplace is crucial to success.
  • Benefits and Support: offering childcare reimbursements and support for employees who are caring for sick and elderly adults.
  • Performance Reviews: recognizing employees for contributing to a positive culture and fostering diversity and inclusion efforts.

How to Support and Advance Women in the Workplace

Put simply, companies need to do more than just talk. There’s a continuing disconnect between the commitment to be a diverse and inclusive company and actually being a diverse and inclusive company. Many companies simply are making bold public claims on their commitment to gender equity without ever having to put it into action. Their words, without any action, are empty promises that hurt gender equity and diversity efforts in the workplace.

Want to Know More?

If you’re looking for a partner to help your company become more equitable and inclusive, call us. We work with small and large companies to help them put the kinds of programs and supports in place that promote diversity and inclusion and – ultimately – lead to more profitability. We’re here to help.



Lisa Coppola

Written by Lisa Coppola

Founder of The Coppola Firm

Lisa A. Coppola, Esq. understands the challenges her clients face, whether they’re starting a new business, taking their existing operations in a new direction, or facing a claim or threat.

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