Where women see bias, men see a ‘pipeline problem’

‘Women are banging their heads on the glass ceiling, but it seems many men don’t even hear the commotion.’
Women are advancing at a far slower pace in the workplace compared to their male counterparts, and not much fuss is being made about it. Image: Shutterstock

Gender parity at work is still decades away, if it ever comes at all. Why? Part of the problem is that men and women look at the same world and see different things.

Almost half of men (44%) say women would be “well represented” at their company if just one in 10 senior leaders were female. Only 22% of women agree with that. These findings come from McKinsey and LeanIn.org, via their annual report on women in the workplace, based on a survey of 65 800 people at 329 companies.

And this is actually an improvement, says Alexis Krivkovich, a senior partner at McKinsey’s San Francisco office. In previous years, an even larger share of men thought women were well represented in company leadership — even when company-specific data showed that wasn’t true. And men today are more likely to say gender diversity is a “high personal priority” than they were in 2015.

Yet to the extent that men are becoming more aware that the gender gap at the top is a problem, they still disagree with women about what’s causing it. Men are most likely to say the trouble is “too few qualified women in the pipeline.”

Women point to different causes. Forty percent say women are judged by different standards. (Only 14% of men see it that way.) Nineteen percent of women correctly perceive that junior women are less likely than junior men to get that first promotion into management. (Only 7%  of men see that.) And 32% of women say women lack sponsors to champion their work. (Only 12% of men agree.)

This last problem is especially troubling for two reasons: First, the scarcity of sponsors for women has been linked with stalled careers in study after study. And second, the men who responded to McKinsey’s survey themselves revealed a real reluctance to sponsor or mentor junior women. In January 2018, months before the deluge of #MeToo stories began with the New York Times’s reporting on Harvey Weinstein, 46% of men said they’d be uncomfortable mentoring a younger female. By March 2019, after the Weinstein revelations, that figure had risen to 60%. In fact, they’re now 12 times as likely as they once were to hesitate to have even a one-on-one meeting with a younger female colleague.

Think of that: Senior men don’t think women have a problem finding sponsors to help them win plum assignments and promotions, but they themselves admit to balking at spending any one-on-one time with the women they’re responsible for championing. “There’s this urban myth that gosh, somehow in this post-MeToo workplace, women have become dangerous or scary,” says David Smith, an associate professor of sociology at the Naval War College and co-author of “Athena Rising,” a book about men who mentor women. “They might just decide to falsely accuse us of sexual harassment. There’s no evidence to support that. As men we need to push back on each other when we hear that.”

And when men refuse to mentor women, those women go without mentors. There aren’t enough senior women to pick up the slack.

The result is a workplace in which equally ambitious and, yes, equally qualified women consistently find it tougher to get ahead.

Women and men want promotions, ask for promotions, and ask for raises at nearly identical rates; the difference is that men are much more likely to get them. In fact, the gender gap appears with that first promotion into management: Although half of entry-level employees in corporate America are female, for every 100 men who get promoted to first-line management jobs, only 72 women get through.

This difference can’t be due to qualifications — these are entry-level employees, just a few years out of college. (The same colleges where female students graduate in higher numbers, and score higher GPAs.) Nor can it be due to family responsibilities; many of these workers don’t have children.  

It’s not a pipeline problem. Over and over, women are banging their heads on the glass ceiling, but it seems many men don’t even hear the commotion.

Women are twice as likely as men to say that they’ve had to provide extra evidence of their competence — 30% of all women report this, and 40% of black women. Half of women say they’ve been interrupted or spoken over, while only a third of men have. Only 8% of men of all races say colleagues have expressed surprise at their language or other abilities; 26% of black women say it’s happened to them.

Our impressions, of course, are shaped by our experiences. One in five women reports being the only woman on her team; for women in senior and technical roles, it’s one in three. Just one in 50 — 50! — men say the same. Among these “only women,” half say they’ve had to prove their competence or have had their expertise questioned. Roughly 70% say they are interrupted, and half say they don’t get credit for their ideas.

These slights may seem trivial, but things like getting credit for your ideas or being seen as an expert are what allow successful employees to advance.

There are plenty of things companies can do to remedy these problems — actions that also make them better places to work. It’s not hype that more diverse companies perform better, or that venture capital firms with more women get better returns. Well-managed companies care about merit, about fairness, and about promoting the best people. If you’re pulling talent from only half the population, your results just aren’t going to be as good.

A reason to feel hopeful: Younger men are much more capable of recognising bias when they see it. Among people under the age of 30, 41% of women and 17% of men say they’ve heard or seen bias directed at women in the past year. That’s a gap, but not nearly as wide as the one in the 50-60 age group, where 32% of women and just 9% of men say they’ve witnessed bias.

That’s why it’s so important for people of all ages to call out bias when they see it. And here’s where men can be especially valuable, because unlike women, they face no penalty for doing so. Another reason younger guys might be expected to help the project of gender equality advance: They’re more likely to be part of a dual-career couple, Krivkovich says, so they have a personal connection to the problem. Smith says it can only help men understand the problem better to hear about it firsthand from a woman they care about: “A lot of times that’s what gets in touch with our sense of fairness and justice.”

It might be just what we need to start seeing the world (almost) the same way.

© 2019 Bloomberg L.P.


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This article is garbage as per usual. I would have agreed that in the past there were obstacles to women getting in the corporate world but this is simply not the case these days. I know plenty of highly successful women and they all have one thing in common: they have an internal locus of control. When they fail they admit their mistakes, pick themselves up, dust themselves off and carry on much the wiser. The women (and men of course) who never get anywhere in life are those who blame others. It’s the system. It’s the patriarchy. It’s the glass ceiling. It’s discrimination. It’s always someone else’s fault. One must also be careful in that women are not going into STEM fields. For example in Norway women are actively recruited into STEM fields to get “gender balance”. Equality of outcomes not opportunity, once again. Certainly there is no hindrance to women going into fields such as IT (in fact actively encouraged) but men outnumber women 20:1 in IT in Norway despite the plethora of social engineering afoot. Now, indisputably the world is going Hi Tech. Managers must have some inkling of what they are doing. How are you going to achieve gender balance in these companies if women with the right qualifications are scarce? The only way is not to choose the best but recruit for window dressing. This leads to more suitable men being sidelined, who leave. The company suffers on all fronts. There are only so many social anthropologists the board of IT companies can carry.

A very successful friend of mine was once nominated for an award “women in mining”. She was incredibly affronted. I like her attitude.

The window dressing story is very true. I have a friend who works for a major consulting company. The wife of a well-known politically-connected millionaire was appointed as a director. Soon after joining, Ms Director called a meeting with the engineers and told the youngsters that if they don’t register professionally immediately, they were going to be fired (completely illegal and constructive dismissal right there). She so antagonized another group of engineers that they left to form their own company, taking all their clients and expertise, losing the company millions in revenue. Needless to say, Ms Director was “redeployed” to a harmless and powerless position, and then quietly left to “pursue her own interests.” Once again, it’s back to the truth that neither her gender, nor her ruling party connections qualified her in any way to do the job.

Suuuuure, there is no bias whatsoever. Women of the same capabilities are treated equally. What absolute and utter hogwash. I have a Masters level qualification and am damn good at what I do. Yet I’ve had personal experience of employers stating: “Yeah, you’re young and recently married, we can’t afford to give you maternity leave” or “What a waste of an education seeing you’re going to stop working when you have kids”.

Don’t talk about things you haven’t personally experienced.

Oh dear poor you,

your Masters degree did not help you understand commonsense nor statistics either…

Imagine wanting to work at an organisation that states “we can’t afford to give you maternity leave”. Are there really people that are this foolish to state this? Or is this your ‘perception’?

Sorry if those realities (not being able to afford maternity leave) or opinions (waste an education when you stop working to have kids) set you back, but I have experienced the opposite as well.

Someone close to me in a management position at an international firm took maternity leave with her firstborn. She received 6 months paid and took another 3 unpaid. She was promoted shortly after her return which coincided with her falling pregnant a second time. She was promoted again anyway, worked for 8 months and received another 6 months paid maternity leave, after which she took another 3 unpaid. By the time she had to go back to work things had developed to where she decided not to return to work at all. They still offered to pay her on a contractual basis.

The point is, not all companies are bad. There isn’t a big misogynistic boogieman lurking behind the door of every interview, blocking every woman at all cost- the vast difference in perceptions/opinions between men and woman in the article is proof of that, not that there is a conspiracy.

“Do you know what we call opinion in the absence of evidence? We call it prejudice.”
― Michael Crichton

Discrimination happens. Some companies can afford to pay the minimum maternity leave, some can afford to pay more, and do, and some can’t afford to pay at all. It should remain their choice, and not every situation is one where discrimination occurs.

I’m (not) surprised to see the name of McKinsey in the mix. They will pit you against your brother, sister or family if they had to, whatever they need to do to make the $$$. Evil… Find them and those like them in all campaigns and “studies” where the result is divisions in societies, families and nations. No good come from them; WMC, rooi gevaar….

We should not paint all people with the same brush, whether the issues relate to men or woman, black or white, gay or straight, employed or unemployed, old or young. Address discrimination fairly, and only when and where we find it….

I have plenty of personal experience from my career and it’s generally been to push gender ratios.

That is just my tiny sliver of the work place and I am therefore willing to accept that there are other situations where the opposite applies but I am unwilling to accept the entire working industry operates in a certain way because you had one experience that was negative.

I think the maternity leave situation is a intervention that I would happily back, in SA, the laws around maternity leave are poor, not being obligated to pay your salary for the 4 months is ridiculous. It is a tiny investment but I suspect is a huge enabler for woman who want to balance a family and a working life.

In fact, I think it is pretty critical in any country looking to grow to incorporate everyone into the working environment.

I do however think that to generally say there is a open bias against hiring/supporting woman in the work place is unlikely to be true.

Have you thought that the obstacle is people like the commentators below?

Since when is your gender a qualification for any job? Why must people be promoted just for being of the correct gender?

Way to miss the point of this article.

You must have been gravely failed by the public education system to think that is what the article is about.

You are also so defense and lacking in a proper counter points to have to resort to your pathetic responses. Ashamed to be associated with losers like you.

“You are also say defense” (sic?) Say what?? And then you want to speculate about my educational shortcomings? Please go back to school immediately and demand a 100% refund. They clearly failed miserably in their efforts with you.

If a business consists of female workers only it is considered an enormous breakthrough for gender equality. If a business has 51 male and 49 female workers it is considered as gender inequality. Successful businesses consist of professionally successful people be they male or female and definitely not the equality hoax.

Moneyweb girls can not take the heat, just remove serious discussion…

“When you’re done washing the dishes, dear.
Yeah, you must be proud to be associated with this level of intellect. No bias whatsoever right!

Sarcasm and irony. Just add these to the list of things your loathsome, below-par and ignorant self are completely clueless about. Troll.

Ahh, the old “I was just joking hey boet” defence. Absolutely pathetic response.

These broad reports using high level stats are not especially helpful but at least it attempts to answer the question why. The sponsorship point may be valid in broader terms and I can’t understand why a man would refuse to sponsor/mentor a woman.

What I will say is that in my personal experience, woman have been strongly pushed for leadership positions. It’s similar to affirmative action. The best people get to the top no matter what, again in my experience and gender/race quotas only leads to weaker candidates making it beyond the level that they probably should have or even worse, pushing them into a high pressure environment without the skills/experience and leading to them failing.

Perhaps this a generational thing but I think this is and will take care of itself.

Road to hell is paved with good intentions, but I dont even think the writer has good intentions. Why are we not fighting about brick layers, garbage men. I see there are no articles to change it to garbage “person”.This is about power and influence and what we as society think those are represented by.

Society has 2 choices either everyone gets treated procedurally equally (under the law…) or we have equal outcomes (communism). You cant have both. We are ALL born different including men and women. If you are treated equally we will have different outcomes.

Can we help people who get a bad wrap. Im sure we can. Progressive taxes and the like. BUT too much and the people feel the oppression of social engineering and being dictated to and as with ALL social engineered societies the people that know best (like the writer or other dictator) just need a little more control to get the outcome that they think is the right one.

Its hyperbolic, but when do you chop the tall guys legs at the knees to give to the short person. When do you throw acid at the models face to make her as ugly as everyone else? When you are forced to progress at any cost the cost is usually to high.

Just be careful of your destination on the road of good intentions.


but just wait trans are killing it in sports with this pseudo science BS… women sports..sadly mostly women are the ones losing out at the end

End of comments.



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