Reality Check: Women in the Workplace

December 30, 2016 | Melissa Matson

This year brought new attention to women in the workplace as influential figures stepped to the forefront to demand equality.

When Robin Wright, a well-known actress and director, demanded the same compensation as her male counterpart in a popular TV drama, the world took notice. News outlets spanning business networks to pop culture magazines were talking about Wright’s story, and ultimately, her achievement when the network agreed to grant her equal pay. Although Wright’s actions have been deemed as commendable, why does the world act surprised when a woman demands equal pay as her male counterpart? The answer may surprise people.

The workplace might not be as progressive of a place for women as one might think. McKinsey & Company recently published Women in the Workplace 2016, a comprehensive study of the state of women in corporate America. Two main themes emerged: on average, women are promoted and hired at lower rates than men, resulting in far fewer women becoming senior leaders. Secondly, at more senior levels, the study saw women shift from line roles – those positions in line for C-suite opportunities – to support staff roles, with very few ending up on a path to becoming CEO.

McKinsey & Company found discrepancies between men and women and the survey points to various setbacks women regularly face that contribute to their inequality. Despite modest progress since 2015, women remain underrepresented at every step in the corporate pipeline.

  • Only one in five senior executives is a woman.
  • Women, on average, are less likely to be promoted, even though they lobby for promotions as often as men. As roles in an organization become more senior, the representation of women declines because women are less likely to be promoted to manager.
  • Almost twice as many men are hired as directors from outside of the organization and nearly three times as many are hired as SVPs.
  • Women also get less interaction with senior leaders.
  • While women negotiate as often as men, they face pushback when they do.
  • One silver-lining for women is that the percentage of women being promoted into middle and senior management is higher than the percentage of women currently at those levels.

Someone trying to challenge this research may ask, how can it be that women are not making more progress?

The key to creating female progression in the workplace is to make diversity a priority. TD Ameritrade has dedicated itself to creating opportunities for women within its organization over the last few years.

The company’s Diversity and Inclusion initiative works to build a diverse pipeline of talent, creating a culture that can help make candidates successful. It also gives people opportunities to speak up and discuss D&I topics.

“The firm has focused heavily on diversity. One of the first goals of the Diversity and Inclusion Initiative was women’s equality in the workplace, and I do believe we’ve made some great progress,” said Lee McAdoo, managing director of investor education at TD Ameritrade. “Part of the firm’s efforts can be attributed to executive sponsorship, and our leaders finding opportunities for highly talented women to progress to leadership positions.”

McAdoo elaborated that once in a leadership position, women have greater ability to effect change. They understand some of the work life balance issues and challenges their female colleagues encounter, allowing them to help their counterparts and even junior women navigate tough stepping stones on the way.

“We’ve been on a journey as a company to create a culture that provides development for managers around building diverse teams,” said McAdoo. “Coupled with the fact that the firm is making progress as far as continuing to promote women, we face a new challenge of feeding the pipeline with more junior female talent—a task we’re now focused on.”

As McKinsey & Company states, the progress for women in the workplace is moving at a slow pace. It’s imperative for companies to focus on helping women grow their careers, not only to eliminate the stigma of a woman demanding equality, but to create more opportunities for the young generation of women joining the workforce.