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Women in the Workplace 2021

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In a year of incredible disruption, women are setting a new standard for leadership

A year and a half into the COVID-19 pandemic, women have made important gains in representation. But the pandemic continues to take a toll. Women are now significantly more burned out—and increasingly more so than men. There is also a concerning disconnect between companies’ growing commitment to racial equity and the lack of improvement we see in the day-to-day experiences of women of color.

Despite these headwinds, women are rising to the moment as better leaders. Compared to men at the same levels, women leaders are stronger people managers and more active champions of diversity, equity, and inclusion. Yet this critical work is going unrecognized and unrewarded by most companies, and that has serious implications. Companies risk losing the very leaders they need right now, and it’s hard to imagine organizations navigating the pandemic and building inclusive workplaces if this work isn’t truly prioritized.

The impact of the last year and a half on women is far from clear. But the risks to women—and the companies that depend on their leadership—are still very real.

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Women Are Setting a New Standard for Leadership

At a time when the stakes have never been higher, women are showing up as better people-focused leaders and stronger advocates for DEI. They are more likely than men at their levels to take consistent steps to promote employee well-being, such as checking in on their team members and helping them manage their workloads. They are also more likely to support DEI initiatives and to be active allies to women of color. But although this work drives better outcomes for all employees, it is going largely overlooked by companies. There’s a risk that it will be relegated to a new form of “office housework”—work that is critical to the business but not compensated—and in most organizations, what gets rewarded is what gets prioritized.

Key Findings

  • Senior-level women are twice as likely as senior-level men to spend substantial time on DEI work that falls outside their formal job responsibilities.

  • Eighty-six percent of companies say it’s “very or extremely” critical that managers support their team members’ well-being, but only 25 percent formally recognize those who do this—and a similar trend holds for DEI work.

  • When managers take action to promote employee well-being and companies prioritize DEI, employees are happier, less burned out, and less likely to consider leaving their company.

Explore Women in the Workplace

Read the full report to learn how women are setting a new standard of leadership.

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“We’re working on DEI after hours in the evenings, on weekends, and on vacation. And there’s no formal recognition of all the effort.”

—South Asian woman, VP


The workplace is still worse for women of color

Despite increased focus on DEI and racial equity in corporate America, we see little improvement in the day-to-day experiences of women of color. Women of color face similar types and relative frequencies of microaggressions as they did two years ago—and they are far more likely than white women to be on the receiving end of disrespectful and “othering” behavior. And while more white employees see themselves as allies to women of color, they are no more likely than last year to speak out against discrimination, mentor or sponsor women of color, or take other actions to advocate for them. This points to the critical need for businesses to equip employees at all levels to challenge bias and show up as allies.

Key Findings

  • Women of color are two to three times as likely as white women to hear colleagues express surprise at their language skills or other abilities.

  • 1 in 8 women of color is a “double Only”—often the only woman and the only person of their race in the room—and they are far more likely than other women to experience microaggressions.

  • Seventy-seven percent of white employees consider themselves allies to women of color, but only 39 percent confront discrimination when they see it, and only 21 percent advocate for new opportunities for women of color.

Explore Women in the Workplace

Read the full report to learn more about the challenges women of color face at work.

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“The average person has no idea about the stress that women and people of color carry. They have no idea about the small ways that women and people of color get humiliated, that make them feel undermined or made to feel smaller than they are. It happens all the time.”

—Black women, senior manager

The path forward is clear

Companies need to take bold steps to address burnout. They need to do the deep cultural work required to create a workplace where all women feel valued. And they need to recognize and reward the women leaders who are driving progress.

Advancing DEI

How companies can advance diversity and inclusion

To drive change, companies need to invest deeply in all aspects of diversity, equity, and inclusion.

To improve representation of all women across the pipeline, companies need to double down on reducing bias in reviews and promotions, and they need to hold leaders and managers accountable for progress. But diversity in numbers isn’t enough. Companies also need to create a culture that fully leverages the benefits of diversity—one in which women, and all employees, feel comfortable bringing their unique ideas, perspectives, and experiences to the table.

Key Findings

  • More than 90 percent of companies track women’s overall representation, but only 65 percent track gender differences in promotion rates.

  • Almost 70 percent of companies hold senior leaders accountable for progress on diversity goals—but only 30 percent hold managers, who play a critical role in hiring and promotion decisions, accountable.

  • Only 34 percent of employees have participated in anti-racism training in the past year, and just 14 percent have received allyship training.

Advancing allyship at work

It’s clear from this year’s report that there's a gap between intent and action when it comes to allyship. LeanIn.Org's new Allyship at Work program is designed to close this gap and empower employees to take meaningful action as allies. Ninety-four percent of program participants feel more equipped to practice allyship and would recommend the program to a colleague.

Find out why organizations like Adidas, Walmart, and WeWork are using the program and how you can bring it to your company at

Learn more

Employee well-being

How companies can begin to address burnout

As companies embrace flexibility, they also need to set clear boundaries

Most companies have expanded flexibility to help employees get through the pandemic—and it’s making a difference. However, many companies are missing a crucial piece: without clear boundaries, flexible work can quickly turn into 24/7 work. Companies need to put guardrails in place so employees don’t feel they’re “always on,” and managers need to model work/life boundaries and more actively support employee well-being.

Key Findings

  • More than three quarters of senior HR leaders say allowing employees to work flexible hours is one of the most effective things they’ve done to improve employee well-being over the past year.

  • Thirty-seven percent of employees feel like they need to be available for work 24/7—and employees who feel this way are twice as likely as those who don’t to be burned out.

  • Only 1 in 3 employees has received guidance around blocking off personal time on their calendars, and only 1 in 5 has been told they don’t need to respond to non-urgent requests outside of work hours.

Explore Women in the Workplace

Read the full report to learn more about the impact of Covid-19 on working mothers.

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