Women in the Workplace 2021

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The state of women hangs in the balance

A year and a half into the COVID-19 pandemic, women have made important gains in representation, and especially in senior leadership. But the pandemic continues to take a toll. Women are now significantly more burned out—and increasingly more so than men.

Despite this added stress and exhaustion, women are rising to the moment as stronger leaders and taking on the extra work that comes with this: compared to men at the same level, women are doing more to support their teams and advance diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts. They are also more likely than men to practice allyship. Yet this critical work is going unrecognized and unrewarded by most companies, and that has concerning implications. Companies risk losing the very leaders they need right now, and it’s hard to imagine organizations navigating the pandemic and building inclusive workplaces if this work isn’t truly prioritized.

There is also a disconnect between companies’ growing commitment to racial equity and the lack of improvement we see in the day-to-day experiences of women of color. Women of color face similar types and relative frequencies of microaggressions as they did two years ago—and they remain far more likely than white women to be on the receiving end of disrespectful and “othering” behavior. And while more white employees see themselves as allies to women of color, they are no more likely than last year to speak out against discrimination, mentor or sponsor women of color, or take other actions to advocate for them.

The impact of the last year and half on women is still far from clear. But the risks to women—and the companies that depend on their leadership—are very real.

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“It's the only time I’ve ever seriously considered a less demanding job. I interviewed for a job with another company. I just felt burned out so often. I probably cried more days than not. I felt caught in the middle of everyone's emotional responses. It was the hardest working year of my life.”
seventh year

Women in the Workplace 2021

Women in the Workplace is the largest study on the state of women in corporate America. Based on data from 423 companies employing 12 million people, this year’s report features:

  • Insights from nearly 400 CHROs on the most effective practices for supporting employee well-being and advancing DEI
  • A detailed look at what companies and employees see as the benefits and risks of remote work
  • Best practices for eliminating bias in hiring and promotions—including what top-performing companies are doing
  • Data-driven vignettes on the distinct experiences of Asian women, Black women, Latinas, lesbian and bisexual women, and women with disabilities
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“I’ve talked to white men who started off in the warehouse and now they’re at the VP level. I’ve also talked to a lot of Black and brown employees that have been here for 15 years and are at the same level they started at or they’re a little bit higher. But they’re nowhere near their white peers.”

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Tools to drive change

It’s clear from this year’s report that there’s a gap between intent and action when it comes to allyship. LeanIn.Org’s new Allyship at Work program is designed to close this gap and empower employees to take meaningful action as allies. Ninety-four percent of program participants feel more equipped to practice allyship and would recommend the program to a colleague. Find out why organizations like Adidas, Walmart, and WeWork are using the program and how you can bring it to your company at leanin.org/allyshipatwork.

McKinsey & Company offers an award-winning executive training program to equip diverse leaders in the U.S. and Europe with the network, capabilities, and mindsets needed to achieve their professional goals. Since launching its Black Leadership Academy in September 2020, McKinsey has enrolled 17,000 participants from more than 500 organizations. In 2021, McKinsey also launched the Black Economic Mobility Institute to examine the economic context and opportunities of Black and African Americans. This fall McKinsey & Company will launch the Hispanic and Latino Leadership Academy and an Asian Leadership Academy. Visit mckinsey.com/featured-insights/diversity-and-inclusion to explore McKinsey’s full collection of research and insights on DEI.

About the study

Women in the Workplace is the largest study on the state of women in corporate America. In 2015, LeanIn.Org and McKinsey & Company launched the study to give companies insights and tools to advance gender diversity in the workplace. Between 2015 and 2021, over 750 companies participated in the study, and more than a quarter of a million people were surveyed on their workplace experiences. This year, we collected information from 423 participating organizations employing 12 million people, surveyed more than 65,000 employees, and conducted interviews with women of diverse identities, including women of color, LGBTQ+ women, and women with disabilities. Our 2021 findings focus on the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and the growing emphasis on diversity, equity, and inclusion on the experiences of women and the state of work more broadly.

LeanIn.Org report authors and contributors:
Ali Bohrer, Jenna Bott, Gina Cardazone, Marianne Cooper, Destin Fernandes, Sophia Hunt, Ryan Hutson, Sonia Mahajan, Jordan Miller-Surratt, Mary Noble-Tolla, Rachel Thomas, Emma Tsurkov, Kate Urban, Katie Wullert, Jemma York

McKinsey & Company report authors and contributors:
Sofia Alvarado, Tiffany Burns, David Corfield, Nawel Gabouge, Worth Gentry, Alison Gerard, Beatriz Go, Sanchika Gupta, Anne Marie Hawley, Jess Huang, Alexis Krivkovich, Melinda Lee, Yuan Qu, Ishanaa Rambachan, Tijana Trkulja, Lareina Yee, Stephanie Yeh, Zhengren Zhu


McKinsey & Company and LeanIn.Org would like to thank the 423 companies and more than 65,000 employees who participated in this year’s study. By sharing their information and insights, they’ve given us new visibility into the state of women in the workplace and the steps companies can take to achieve gender equality.

We appreciate the continued help of Defined Contribution Institutional Investment Association (DCIAA), Equity Collaborative, Health Evolution, Healthcare Businesswomen's Association, Hygieia, Institutional Limited Partners Association (ILPA), International Dairy Foods Association (IDFA), Massachusetts High Technology Council, Press Forward, SEMI Foundation, Women’s Network in Electronic Transactions (WNET), and Women's Foodservice Forum in convening participants in their respective industries.

We would like to thank IntelliSurvey for their help in conducting the surveys for this study and Getty Images for providing the photography from the Lean In Collection used in this report and website.