Around the globe, the representation of women in senior management is increasing slowly,1 however there is still a long way to go before we reach gender parity in leadership. While women hold more leadership positions today than ever before, they have not advanced at a rate proportional to the percentage of the educated workforce they represent. Additionally, progress has been uneven in terms of the types of roles women hold and the race of the women holding those roles.

One sign of progress is that in 1980 no women held top executive ranks in any Fortune 100 companies,2  but by 2020 the percentage of women in senior management roles globally grew to 29%, the highest number on record.3 However, consider that since the 1980’s more women have enrolled in college than men,4 women have earned one-third of all law degrees,4 and comprised one-third of medical students. The point that women have not moved into leadership roles proportional to their representation in education and in the workforce is illustrated by the fact that there are almost 13 companies led by a man for every company led by a woman. 6  While in the US women comprise roughly half of the workforce, 7 they hold only a little over one-third of management positions.8

Despite a record-high number of Fortune 500 women CEOs in 2020, 9 women face a leaky leadership pipeline.  An analysis of women’s representation in the workplace shows decreasing percentages moving up the org chart:  10

  • Executives: 23%
  • Senior managers: 29%
  • Managers: 37%
  • Professionals: 42%
  • Support staff: 47%
While women are concentrated in support positions, men are over-represented in roles such as operations, finance, and R&D. 11 These roles are often considered critical for promotion to C-suite positions, and this disparity may well explain why women remain under-represented in leadership. According to a study by McKinsey, “If first-level women managers were hired and promoted like men, there would be 1 million more women in management over the next five years.”12

In addition to the uneven progress, we see in the types of roles women are holding, there are also racial disparities in the rate of women’s advancement. In 2019, white women held 32% of all management positions, 13 while women of color held a drastically smaller share of management positions:14

  • Latinas: 4.3%
  • Black women: 4.0%
  • Asian women: 2.5%
With the onset of the COVID crisis, women—and particularly women of color—are more likely to have been let go or furloughed,15  creating even further disparities.

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