Women Are Leaning In, but Here’s Why They’re Still Not Being Promoted

Equal representation in the executive suite could be more than 100 years away.

Characters Joan Holloway and Peggy Olson from AMC's 'Mad Men.' (Image: YouTube)

Oct 1, 2015· 1 MIN READ
Culture and education editor Liz Dwyer has written about race, parenting, and social justice for several national publications. She was previously education editor at Good.

Corporate America has come a long way since the Mad Men era, when women were seen solely as secretaries who slept with their male bosses while the guys took credit for a business’ success. Although we saw Peggy Olson strutting down a hallway to her office in the series finale, we also saw Joan Holloway realize she’d never be promoted at McCann-Erickson.

Research released Wednesday by Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In organization and the consulting firm McKinsey & Co. seems to suggest that if Joan were working at a company today, she still might not get promoted to the executive suite.

For the study, researchers analyzed data from 118 businesses in North America and surveyed nearly 30,000 employees, both men and women. They found that although women and men expressed a desire to be promoted at about the same rate—75 percent and 78 percent, respectively—women are 15 percent less likely than their male peers to get a promotion.

“At the current pace of progress, we are more than 100 years away from gender equality in the C-suite,” Sandberg wrote in a post on Facebook. “If NASA launched a person into space today, she could soar past Mars, travel all the way to Pluto and return to Earth 10 times before women occupy half of C-suite offices. Yes, we’re that far away,” she added.

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The study found that nearly three-fourths of CEOs said gender diversity is a top priority, up from 56 percent in 2012. Top executives believe they’re putting the issue on the front burner, but that’s not what their employees say.

Only 37 percent of women and 49 percent of men agree that their CEOs are prioritizing the issue. Even more troubling, just 31 percent of women and 35 percent of men said their direct managers make gender diversity in the workplace a priority. Perhaps it’s no surprise, then, that just 60 percent of women senior managers hope to become a top executive, compared with 72 percent of men.

“Contrary to popular belief, this is not solely rooted in family concerns. Our research shows that even women without children cite stress and pressure as their main issue,” wrote Sandberg in an op-ed for The Wall Street Journal. “This points to another possible explanation for the leadership ambition gap: The path to senior positions is disproportionately stressful for women.”

Sandberg pointed to the biased culture of girls and women who are assertive being called “bossy”—or worse—while boys and men are liked and respected for their go-getting attitude.

However, corporate America’s ability to squash the executive ambitions of women is the business equivalent of cutting off your nose to spite your face. The Lean In and McKinsey study comes on the heels of a report released last week that found the skills and diverse perspective women bring to the table has real economic value. The United States, India, and England are losing out on $665 billion in profits by not having women executives.

Of course, as we saw on Mad Men, McCann-Erickson lost out on Joan’s talents too. Fed up with the mysogyny, she left the company and ended up starting her own business. (Hint, hint, ladies.)