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More women are burning out at work, and that’s a problem

<i>CNN/Adobe Stock</i><br/>Women are burning out at work in higher numbers.
CNN/Adobe Stock
Women are burning out at work in higher numbers.

By Kathryn Vasel, CNN Business

Even in the face of a global pandemic, women continued to make strides in corporate America last year. But they’re also burning out in higher numbers.

A new report from McKinsey & Company and said women’s representation improved across most of the corporate pipeline in 2020. The annual report surveyed more than 65,000 employees from 423 organizations that chose to participate.

While the gains are good news, women are still underrepresented among leadership roles. The problem is even more pronounced among women of color.

“As companies continue to manage the challenges of the pandemic and look to build a more equal workplace for the future, they need to focus on two key priorities: 1) advancing all aspects of diversity and inclusion, and 2) addressing the increasing burnout that all employees — but particularly women — are experiencing,” the report said.

Here’s what the report found:

Representation has improved…but it’s still lacking

In the last five years, women’s representation in leadership roles, including manager, vice president and senior vice president, has increased, but women are still underrepresented at all levels of management.

At the start of 2021, 41% of manager positions were held by women, up from 37% at the start of 2016. But women of color represented just 12% of managers this year.

At the senior vice president level, 27% were women in 2021, up from 24% in 2016. However, women of color only held 5% of these roles this year.

“The gains in representation for women overall haven’t translated to gains for women of color,” the report said.

Women of color are continuing to lose ground at every step in the pipeline, said Rachel Thomas, co-founder and CEO of LeanIn.Org. “They lose more ground than white women and they lose more ground than men of color,” she said. “And by the time you get to the C-suite…none of us should be celebrating what the C-suite looks like: Only one in four C-suite executives is a woman and only one in 25 is a woman of color.”

Women of color also face higher rates of microaggressions in the workplace that can hurt their career growth and lead to burnout, the report found.

Burnout out is a real threat

The pandemic has amplified employee burnout across the board but it has been especially bad among women, who are increasingly considering scaling back.

Of women surveyed, 42% said they were often or almost always burned out this year compared to 35% of men. Last year, 32% of women reported feeling this way, compared to 28% of men.

Even more worrisome is that one in three women has considered leaving the workforce or downshifting their careers, according to the report. That’s up from one in four during the first few months of the pandemic.

Women responsible for managing teams have even higher levels of burnout, with more than 50% of women managers surveyed reporting they were often or almost always burned out.

The problem starts early

It’s hard to climb the corporate ladder when you can’t even get on it.

For every 100 men promoted to a manager-level position, only 86 women are promoted, according to the report.

“The broken rung likely explains why representation of women at the senior-manager, director, and vice-president levels has improved more slowly than the pipeline overall,” the report said.

No quick fix

Companies can do more when it comes to improving diversity, including reviewing hiring, promotion and performance evaluation practices to ensure fairness, holding company leaders accountable and tracking representation more fully.

The report found that while many companies tout diversity as important, only around two-thirds hold senior leaders accountable for progress on diversity goals, and less than one-third hold managers accountable.

“In some cases, companies are offering financial penalties for not making progress as well as financial incentives for making progress. Some are sharing the results publicly outside the organization, so all of this helps demonstrate that it is important and holds individuals accountable,” said Ishanaa Rambachan, a partner at McKinsey & Company.

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