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Eight Years After Lean-In. Whatcha Gotta Show for It?

Vivia Chen

November 13, 2018

1280px-Sheryl_Sandberg_World_Economic_Forum_2013Every so often, a reader will complain that I’m a downer about women’s progress. That I’m too cynical. That I don’t give enough credit to good efforts. That I’m part of the problem, not the solution.

Well, what can I say? I am a glass half-empty kind of gal. And, frankly, you’d be too, if you tracked women in the professions as closely as I do and read all those reports, studies and articles on the subject.

With that warning in mind, let’s take a look at the recently released 2018 McKinsey & Co. and LeanIn.Org report on women in the workplace. (The study includes four years of data from 462 companies employing nearly 20 million people across a wide range of sectors, including legal services.)

First, you’ll recall that in 2010, Sheryl Sandberg gave her seminal Lean In TED Talk, and many of us thought it would shake women up and change their place in the world.

It’s been eight years now, so what have women achieved? Bupkis.

To put it simply, women are stuck. At every level of Corporate America, women’s progress is at a stand still. And, of course, women of color are even worse off, lagging behind white men, white women and men of color. (The challenges of minority women deserves its own coverage, which I’ll do in a future post.)

Dispiriting, perhaps, but not surprising. More disturbing, in my opinion, is this finding: Women have taken to heart some of the advice that Sandberg gave, but it’s not working.

Consider these findings:

- Contrary to popular belief, women are actually staying in the workforce at the same rate as men. For both sexes, the attrition rate last year was 15 percent. 

- Very few women and men say they plan to leave their jobs for family reasons (2 percent women v. 0 percent men).

- Both sexes are asking for raises and promotions at similar rates. (In the last two years, 29 percent men v. 31 percent of women asked for raises; while 36 percent men v. 37 percent women asked for promotions.)-

- Both sexes say they want to advance in their jobs (75 percent men v. 71 percent women).

What’s interesting is that the report finds that generally men get hired at higher percentages than women at the starting gate (54 percent of jobs go to men, while 46 percent go to women), and that women never catch up. That’s not the case in many leading law firms, where women and men are hired in almost equal numbers, yet women still fall behind.

You can probably recite the reasons for the gap in pay and promotion in your sleep: lack of support from managers, a dearth of sponsors, unfair performance reviews, cronyism and the thousand and one cuts of gender discrimination (microaggression to sexual harassment).

The upshot is that while women are staying at their jobs, toughing it out and raising their hands for pay hikes and promotions—all that Lean In stuff—they’re just treading water. “Women are dramatically outnumbered in senior leadership. Only one in five C-suite leaders is a woman, and only one in 25 is a woman of color,” sums up the report.

So there we are, again: that magical 20 percent high mark for women in the C-suite. Funny, isn’t it, that that happens to be about the same rate as female equity partners in major law firms?

It’s almost as if there’s some kind of gentlemen’s agreement to keep a ceiling on uppity women.

And you wonder why I’m so negative.

 

 vchen@alm.com

Twitter: @lawcareerist

Comments

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Vivia, you are neither cynical, nor negative. You are realistic. We women have made some progress, but could have been so much more over the years. Bless you for giving us the facts. Keep up your outstanding analyses!

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About The Careerist

The Careerist takes an inside look at how lawyers shape their careers and manage their lives. The blog aims to dissect developments in the profession, provide useful information and advice, and give lawyers a platform to voice their views. The goal is to provide a fresh, provocative take on the state of lawyering.

About Vivia Chen

Vivia Chen

Vivia Chen, The Careerist's chief blogger, has been covering the business and culture of law firms for a decade. A former corporate lawyer, Chen is fascinated by those who thrive (as well as those who don't) in the legal profession. Her take: Success in the law (and life) doesn't always travel a linear path. If you have topics you'd like to discuss or information to share, contact her: VChen@alm.com

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