What’s Holding Women Back in the Workplace? – By NIKKI WALLER AND JOANN S. LUBLIN September 30, 2015


Despite support at the top, gender equality is a long way off at most U.S. companies. A study by Lean In and McKinsey reveals why—and what employees and companies can do about it.

A new LeanIn.Org and McKinsey & Co. study on Women in the Workplace finds that corporate diversity initiatives aren't helping women break the glass ceiling. WSJ's Shelby Holliday takes a closer look at the reasons why and other key takeaways from the data. Photo: iStock/Getty Images

A new LeanIn.Org and McKinsey & Co. study on Women in the Workplace finds that corporate diversity initiatives aren’t helping women break the glass ceiling. WSJ’s Shelby Holliday takes a closer look at the reasons why and other key takeaways from the data. Photo: iStock/Getty Images

Why aren’t there more women in the upper ranks of corporate America?

Cue the broken record: Women rein in career plans to spend more time caring for family. What’s more, they are inherently less ambitious than men and don’t have the confidence that commands seats in the C-suite.

Not so fast.

Something else is happening on the way to the top. Women aren’t abandoning their careers in large numbers; motherhood, in fact, increases their appetite for winning promotions; and women overall don’t lack for ambition and confidence that they can take on big jobs. Yet when asked whether they want a top role in their companies or industries, a majority of women say they would rather not grab the brass ring.

Those are the findings of a major new study of women in the workplace conducted by LeanIn.Org and McKinsey & Co. The research, which gathered data on promotions, attrition and trajectories from 118 companies and surveyed nearly 30,000 men and women, is among the largest efforts to capture attitudes and data about working women. The study involved major North American companies and North American units of global ventures headquartered elsewhere. It reveals sharply different views of the workplace, in which women say they experience a playing field at work that is anything but level.

Roughly equal numbers of men and women say they want to be promoted—78% and 75%, respectively. But as men’s desire for big jobs intensifies in the course of their careers, only 43% of women said they want to be a top executive, compared with 53% of men. Perhaps most startling, 25% of women feel their gender has hindered their progress, a perception that grows more acute once women reach senior levels.

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TV’s ‎most powerful showrunner talks candidly about the role of race and gender in Hollywood and the conversation that, she says, “pisses me off” – This story first appeared in the Oct. 17 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.


In early August, Shonda Rhimes read a draft announcement for an event where she was set to appear. It called her “the most powerful black female showrunner in Hollywood.” She crossed out “female” and “black” and sent it back.

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As the mastermind of Grey’s Anatomy and Scandal and the producer of top-rated newcomer How to Get Away With Murder, all for ABC, she didn’t believe either modifier was necessary — or relevant. “They wouldn’t say that someone is ‘the most powerful white male showrunner in Hollywood,’ ” she contends, her tone turning momentarily stern on this morning in late September. She pauses to gather her thoughts and then continues: “I find race and gender to be terribly important; they’re terribly important to who I am. But there’s something about the need for everybody else to spend time talking about it … that pisses me off.”

See more Shonda Rhimes’ Career in Pictures

For years, Rhimes has kept relatively quiet on such matters, preferring instead to make her statements onscreen, where she has displayed a talent for crafting complex, original characters unconstrained by such singular definitions as “black,” “Asian” or “gay.” But her own race and gender had become an unavoidable part of the conversation a few days before our meeting, when The New York Times ran an essay about Rhimes by TV critic Alessandra Stanley. It began: “When Shonda Rhimes writes her autobiography, it should be called ‘How to Get Away With Being an Angry Black Woman.’ ”

Read more 30 of Shonda Rhimes’ Stars Respond to New York Times’ “Angry Black Woman” Column

Stanley went on to make the tendentious claim that Rhimes modeled black characters on herself, among other tone-deaf assertions, including the description of Murder star Viola Davis as “less classically beautiful” than other well-known black actresses. Social media erupted. Vulture‘s Margaret Lyons called the piece “muddled and racist”; The New Yorker‘s Emily Nussbaum added “incendiary.” Others were less kind. Rhimes herself jumped in almost immediately, wondering to her 700,000 Twitter followers why she’s not labeled “an angry black woman” when her white characters rant, too.

When I join Rhimes, 44, a single mother of three, in her homey office at Hollywood’s Sunset Gower Studios, the furor has settled down and she’s reflecting on the positives that have come out of it. “Some really amazing articles were written that had the conversation that I’ve been trying to have for a very long time, which, coming from me, makes me sound like I’m just, ‘Rrrraw!’ ” she mimics a roar, her painted nails clawing the air. Her inbox has been deluged with notes from concerned friends and colleagues, many of whom called for the piece to be retracted. Rhimes would prefer it remain: “In this world in which we all feel we’re so full of gender equality and we’re a postracial [society] and Obama is president, it’s a very good reminder to see the casual racial bias and odd misogyny from a woman written in a paper that we all think of as being so liberal.”

The irony, of course, is that Stanley intended not to bury Rhimes but to praise her and her growing influence on the TV landscape. And for good reason: Rhimes not only has redefined what is possible for African-American actresses — before her Kerry Washington-led Scandal, a black woman hadn’t headlined a network show since Teresa Graves fronted Get Christie Love! in 1974 — but also has demonstrated how broadcast drama can thrive in a deeply competitive environment. Her shows, distinctive for their hyperarticulate dialogue, hairpin plot twists and steamy love triangles, deliver a consistent and enviable mix of ratings and real-time buzz. Grey’s rounded out the most recent season, the show’s 10th, as the No. 1 drama among that coveted 18-to-49 demographic; and Rhimes’ White House melodrama, Scandal, which is said to generate more than $200,000 for each 30-second ad, isn’t far behind. That success hasn’t translated to a shelf full of Emmys, but critics have grown more admiring with each passing season. Time‘s James Poniewozik recently wrote that Rhimes produces “smart, pulpy shows that emote like pop ballads, look like America and run like hell.”

For fourth-place ABC, Rhimes has become so valuable that the network’s entertainment president, Paul Lee, has entrusted her with the entire Thursday lineup, the most lucrative night of programming on TV. “Shonda has this ability to create television events,” he says, days before her trio of shows collectively debuts to a same-day audience of 37 million. And even at that size, she has managed to maintain an intimacy with her audience — a genuine connection at a mass scale. Adds Lee, “Shows that really pop have strong voices, and there’s no stronger voice in America than Shonda Rhimes.”

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ICYMI: Being a Poor, Single Mom Is Hard – BY KAT STOEFFEL March 19 2014


In addition to getting gagillionaire Beyoncé to say that gender equality is a myth in print, Maria Shriver’s Shriver Report has produced a documentary about how that fact affects women who makes $9.49 an hour. Paycheck to Paycheck follows Katrina Gilbert, a 30-year-old certified nurse assistant and single mother of three who is sometimes ineligible for food stamps, denied financial aid for college, and forced to sell the family dog. Slate called her the “most sympathetic poor woman in America.” It’s streaming free all this week.