We Aren't Even Close to Gender-Parity at Work

Last Updated Feb 9, 2010 9:48 AM EST

There are pockets of progress. But if truth be told, women are still in The Man's pocket when it comes to gender-parity in the workplace.

The stark results are reported in a recent Bain & Co. survey of 1,800 businesspeople worldwide. Although 80 percent of women and men say they are convinced of the benefits of gender parity, only 20 percent believe their companies put meaningful resources behind it.

Career women get derailed when they leave work to start raising a family, Bain reports. They never fully recover what they left behind.

It's not that companies don't put forth any effort. Nearly 75 percent of respondents said their employers launched initiatives like flex work programs and mentorships. But less than a quarter felt the programs were effective. Here is how Bain's Chairman Orit Gadiesh, and Julie Coffman, chair of the company's Global Women's Leadership Council, summarize the findings.

"Employees just don't see enough women in leadership positions at their company. Fully 60 percent of survey respondents say they are not solicited for their opinions on gender parity by their companies. The dismal metrics get worse: Less than 20 percent report that their companies effectively utilize gender parity metrics to track progress. Only 14 percent say they had effective gender parity training or workshops. Just 8 percent believe their firms effectively tied incentives and compensation to gender parity."
Implementing these seemingly great programs to help women without putting in the proper organizational incentives, metrics, and support from the top means these companies are just paying lip service to the idea of gender parity. Want proof? A number of surveys agree that only about 2 percent of the top jobs in the U.S. (5 percent in the UK) are filled by women.

Bain recommends that companies develop less rigid promotion processes and career paths, including a "de-stigmatization" of flexible career paths within the organization. Read about the report in this blog post, Why Workplace Equality Initiatives Aren't Helping Women.

"For companies, the pay-off can be huge," the Bain execs write. "Not only will they double their talent pool of leaders as more women return to the workforce in senior positions; they will also retain more male and female employees in the long-run and slash retraining costs. That will require bringing down barriers -- and breaking through the glass ceiling."

How effective is your company at keeping women on the fast track?

  • Sean Silverthorne

    Sean Silverthorne is the editor of HBS Working Knowledge, which provides a first look at the research and ideas of Harvard Business School faculty. Working Knowledge, which won a Webby award in 2007, currently records 4 million unique visitors a year. He has been with HBS since 2001.

    Silverthorne has 28 years experience in print and online journalism. Before arriving at HBS, he was a senior editor at CNET and executive editor of ZDNET News. While at At Ziff-Davis, Silverthorne also worked on the daily technology TV show The Site, and was a senior editor at PC Week Inside, which chronicled the business of the technology industry. He has held several reporting and editing roles on a variety of newspapers, and was Investor Business Daily's first journalist based in Silicon Valley.