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The State of Women at Work

In ways good and bad, 2018 was a big year for women. A record-breaking number of women ran for office—and won. Trailblazing women around the world became “the first.” Countries and companies took important steps to support women and families. At the same time, there’s no question that we’re still a long way from equality.

To get a better sense of what 2018 represented for women’s progress, we took a closer look at one realm in particular: work. What happens in the workplace tells us a lot about whether women are gaining power and opportunity—or whether we’re frozen in place or falling behind.

This video provides a quick summary of the state of women at work in 2018: the gains we’ve made, the inequities that remain, and the challenges that lie ahead. In the fight for equality, we have our work cut out for us. And women around the world are leading the way.

Read the full presentation here

Watch LeanIn.Org president Rachel Thomas, Co-Founder & President, Lean In, talk about the state of women in the workplace from the 2019 #MAKERSConference.


Rachel Thomas: I am here to talk about the state of women at work. And work is just one part of our lives, but it's an important part of our lives, and it tells us a lot about how women are faring—if we're getting more power, more opportunity, more financial security, or if we're falling behind and losing more ground. And sadly, it doesn't look so good. Women are underrepresented at every level in corporate America.

For the last four years, Lean In and McKinsey & Company have conducted the Women in the Workplace study, the largest study of its kind. And year over year over year, the numbers look the same—they're not changing. In fact, they're stalled. So, the higher you look, the fewer women you see. Only one in five C-suite executives is a woman, and only one in 25 is a woman of color.

And old-school explanations for why this is happening, they do not hold up. Women are not leaving the workplace at higher rates than men. Every year, 15 percent of men and women leave their workplace, and 80 percent of them plan to stay in the workforce—women are not opting out.

And women are asking for more. Fifteen years ago, research would have told you that men negotiated far more than women. That is no longer true. Women are leaning in and asking for what we deserve. Women are doing their part, but the system is failing us.

And it starts really early. Right at the entry level, for every 100 men hired, only 85 women are. And let's remember, women have been getting more college degrees since 1978. And for every 100 men promoted to manager, 79 women are promoted, and just 60 Black women. So when you look at the manager level, two-thirds of managers are men. That first step up, two-thirds are men, and only a third are women, and women effectively never catch up.

And we're disadvantaged in other ways, too. We get less support from managers, and it's far worse for women of color, and get even less access to senior leaders, and we all know that senior leaders are part of how we get noticed. And I want you to really look at this. Over half of Latinas and Black women say they have never had an informal interaction with a senior person at work. Never.

Two-thirds of women experience everyday discrimination. They're also called microaggressions. All the women in this room, we know what this is, and we know what it feels like. We're twice as likely to be mistaken as someone more junior, twice as likely to have to provide more evidence of our competence, and one-and-a-half times more likely to hear unprofessional remarks. And lesbian women are far more likely to hear demeaning remarks about others, about themselves, and others like them.

Over a third of women have been sexually harassed in corporate America, and one woman is one too many. And it's far worse in other industries. Nine in 10 women who work in restaurants and work in construction have been sexually harassed.

And one in five women are Onlys. They're either the only or one of the only women in the room at work, and it's worse if you're senior, and it's worse if you're technical. And here's the thing about being an Only: It means we're not getting to real diversity. Some might even say it's tokenism. And women who are Onlys are having a really tough experience. 8 experience microaggressions, that everyday discrimination. So, not surprisingly, women who are Onlys feel on guard, pressure to perform, and much more so than women who work with other women. And over 50 percent of Onlys are sexually harassed.

And here's the kicker: Too many of us are satisfied with the status quo. When one in 10 senior leaders is a woman, just one in 10, almost half of men think women are well represented. And ladies, we are not off the hook. A quarter of us think the same thing.

Because of generations of inequality, when we see just one or two women in senior leadership, we think that's progress. But it's not. And perhaps because we don't fully see the problem, almost 50 percent of employees are not personally committed to gender diversity efforts. And it's hard to imagine a groundswell of change if everybody doesn't get on board.

And women are outnumbered in other places, too. Women hold five of 19 positions in the Trump administration. Worldwide, women hold 24 percent of seats in parliaments. Women lead only 13 of 195 countries around the world.

In 2018, startups founded by women got just 2 percent of venture money. Two percent. Women directed four percent of the top-grossing movies, and it sure as heck is not for lack of talented women directors. And women were awarded just 15 percent of scientific prizes.

And almost everywhere you look, you see an underrepresentation of women in leadership and education. Almost 80 percent of teachers are women, and only about a quarter are superintendents. Sixty percent of food service workers are women, and less than 20 percent are chefs.

And as we all know, at the same time, women are paid less, and often when they're doing the same work. And it's far worse for Black women, and really, really terrible numbers for Latinas. And this is the case everywhere in the world. At the current rates we're looking at today, it will take 202 years to close the global pay gap for women. And that's 202 years way too long.

In the U.S., nearly two-thirds of minimum-wage workers are women, and women are concentrated in lower-paying, lower-skilled jobs everywhere in the world.

And, of course, all of this is against a backdrop of global inequality. Half a billion women and girls lack sufficient nutrition. Over 15 million girls will never set foot in school. Forty-nine countries have no law protecting women from domestic violence. And in 18 countries, husbands can prevent their wives from working. These injustices are all very different, some much more critical than others, but they are all rooted in a fundamental belief that for some reason, women and girls are not equal to men and boys.

But there’s good news: we took a lot of steps forward in 2018. As we all know, here in this country, more women ran for public office than ever before, and they won. 102 House seats, 14 Senate seats, nine governorships. And, wow, their diversity was record-breaking, too. As the 2020 presidential race is kicking off, so many women are putting their hat in the ring for the highest, most powerful office in the land, and there's more to come.

And around the world, policymakers are stepping up, too. California became the first state to require women on boards. In Iceland, they are pushing for equal pay; they are leading the world in this. El Salvador passed a law to protect women from violence at work. Saudi Arabia made it legal for women to drive. In Ireland, they turned over the most oppressive anti-abortion law in the developed world.

Twenty big companies in the U.S. have improved paid leave for hourly workers. That's going to affect five billion people, and it really matters, and we need more companies to stand up and do it. Last year, Adobe stood on this stage at MAKERS and said they were going to close their pay gap, and they did, in all of their offices around the world. P&G pledged that at least 50 percent of their ads would be directed by women. And, boy, has that already made a difference—the Gillette ad literally broke the internet. The Producers Guild of America put strict guidelines in place to prevent sexual harassment and push back against a culture that made it okay for far too long. Thanks to Serena Williams, the amazing Serena Williams, the U.S. Open changed the way they rank players who bail out on pregnancy leave.

And so many women, so many badass women, became firsts. And here's just a couple examples: Tammy Duckworth became the first U.S. senator to give birth in office. Laura Richardson became the first woman to lead the largest U.S. Army Command. Ava DuVernay became the highest-grossing Black woman director in history. Kendall Coyne was the first woman to compete in an NHL All-Star Skills Competition. And I saw her do it, and she's here today. Angela Ponce became the first transgender woman to compete in the Miss Universe Pageant. And 16-year-old Greta Thunberg launched the first-ever school strike for climate change. And thousands of kids, thousands of kids, at hundreds of schools around the world followed her lead.

These women have inspired us, and there's so many more like them. They're doing it in their own way, in their own corner of the world, but they are leading. And as they lead, more change, more positive change, happens for all of us. But we need to knock down more barriers, and we need to empower more women, and I believe we can do it.

In the words of the great Margaret Mead, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, dedicated citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” And that's what we are in this room: we are a group of thoughtful, dedicated people with the power to change the world. All of us. And that's the theme of this conference. If we come together, and we go out in the world today and do our part, I really think we can get there.

Thank you.