Women in the Workplace: Women with Disabilities
Since 2016, Lean In and McKinsey & Company have conducted Women in the Workplace, the largest study on the state of women in corporate America. Each year, the findings clearly show that there is no single story of women at work. To better capture the diversity of women’s experiences, our 2021 report includes data-driven narratives that highlight the experiences of women with disabilites, Asian women, Latinas, Black women, and lesbian and bisexual women.
About 1 in 10 working women has a disability. Disabilities can take many forms—including paralysis, pain, chronic illness, impaired hearing or vision, learning disabilities, and mental health diagnoses—but all disabilities have a negative impact on women’s experiences and opportunities at work.
Women with disabilities are often overlooked and undervalued in their workplaces. They are far more likely than women overall to be interrupted, to have their judgment questioned, and to hear that they are too angry or emotional, and they are also less likely to feel supported by their managers. Less than half of women with disabilities feel they have equal opportunity for advancement, and almost a quarter say their disability has led to missing out on a raise, promotion, or chance to get ahead.
“I have this dream of working for an organization that welcomes me as a person with a disability and where I can use my skills and be successful. That’s a dream. And it shouldn’t be a dream. It should be a normal part of my working life.” —Mixed-race woman, entry-level, physical disability
Most companies aren’t taking enough action to address these problems. Only about 25 percent of employees say their company prioritizes disability in its DEI efforts, compared to more than 40 percent who say their company prioritizes gender and sexual orientation and almost 60 percent who say their company prioritizes race.
On top of this, the COVID-19 crisis has been especially challenging for women with disabilities. Remote work and flexibility have been critical to their health and safety, but they are also more likely than women overall to worry they will face negative consequences from working flexibly. Women with disabilities are about twice as likely as women overall to say that in the past year, setting boundaries around their availability or taking time off for mental health reasons has hurt their career. They are also more likely to feel judged for requesting or taking advantage of options to work remotely or work flexible hours. And their concerns may be justified: women with disabilities are more likely than women overall to say they have lost ground in their career development in the past year.
This added stress and bias is taking a toll. More than half of women with disabilities are often or almost always burned out, and almost half are consistently exhausted. Women with disabilities are also much more likely than women overall to have considered leaving the workforce or downshifting their careers.
The narrative is based on data from Lean In and McKinsey & Company’s 2021 Women in the Workplace study. While it sheds light on some of the distinct experiences of women with disabilities, it is by no means comprehensive. Women face multiple and intersecting biases due to many aspects of their identity.
Women with disabilities refers to women who self-identify as having a disability, which can include physical disabilities, mental illness, developmental disorders, or chronic health conditions that interfere with daily life.
For more data and insights on women’s experiences at work, read the full Women in the Workplace 2021 report. To learn how your company can empower employees to take meaningful action as allies, explore Lean In’s new Allyship at Work program.