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Career Advancement



The Community Survey of Women in the Workplace (CSWW) was an initiative of REACH Women’s Network and was open from September–December of 2022. Learn about the survey, its methodology, and the demographics of respondents.

 

Professional Development and Advancement

Sixty percent of CSWW respondents indicated that they are satisfied or very satisfied with the professional development opportunities within their organization. This is considerably higher than The Conference Board’s reported national average 45%. That said, only 46% of CSWW respondents indicated they were satisfied with their advancement opportunities (compared to a national average of 50%). Those working for large organizations registered significantly lower satisfaction (40%) than those working for mid-sized organizations (58%). Age informs satisfaction, too. Gen X women (birth years 1965–1980) were more likely to be dissatisfied with the pace of their career advancement than Millennial and Gen Z women.  

 

When asked about their satisfaction with the pace of their career advancement, 53% of CSWW respondents were satisfied. Once again here, employees of large organizations faired worse, with just 46% satisfaction compared to 66% for mid-sized organizations. Gen X women reported lower satisfaction (46%) than their peers on the same metric.

 

When considering a potential job change, 76% of CSWW respondents reported that advancement/growth potential would be a very important or absolutely essential factor. This follows workplace culture (90%), higher salary/pay (89%), and a better benefits package (77%).

 

Role v. Title

Overall, 74% of respondents were satisfied with their current role (job description) within the organization, but that drops to 68% when asked about their satisfaction with their current level / title within the organization. Women working for mid-sized organizations were more satisfied (82%) with their current level / title than women working for large organizations (61%). Women earning $50,000+ were more satisfied (73%) with their current level / title within the organization than women earning less than $50,000 (60%). Overall, 44% of respondents indicated that a higher title was very important or absolutely essential if they were considering a job change.

 

Job Promotion

McKinsey’s 2023 Study of Women in the Workplace found that roughly 80% of women desire a promotion, compared to 70% in 2019.


Most (79%) women responding to CSWW reported receiving a job promotion in both title and pay, with 53% saying a promotion had occurred within the previous 3 years. This varied greatly, though, by age, income, and race / ethnicity. White women earning less than $50,000 were the least likely to have received a promotion, with 46% of respondents reporting zero job promotions. Millennials and Gen Z women were more likely to report receiving a promotion within the previous 3 years, while Gen X women were more likely to say it had been 3 or more years since their last promotion. Gen X women were also more likely than women overall to express that they were dissatisfied with their employer’s performance review process.


Hiring and Advancement Policies

Overall 46% of CSWW respondents indicated that that they are satisfied or very satisfied with their employer’s hiring and advancement policies. When examined based on company size, though, the differences are sizable: Women working for organizations with 250+ employees were far less likely to be satisfied (30%) than women working for mid-sized or organizations (62% and 60% respectively).

 

When asked about their employer’s performance review process, 44% were satisfied overall, and 27% were dissatisfied. Gen X women were the least likely to be satisfied.

 

Perceived Advancement Obstacles

When asked about factors impacting their ability to advance in their career, 40% of CSWW respondents indicated that their gender/gender identity has had a negative impact. Overall, 31% indicated that age has had a negative impact on their advancement.

 

There was considerable variation in responses to how race / ethnicity had impacted career advancement. Among BIPOC women, 41% said that race / ethnicity has had a negative impact; and the higher their earnings, the more prevalent the impact. BIPOC women earning $50,000+ were more likely to indicate their race / ethnicity has had a negative impact than BIPOC women earning less than $50,000.


Although two thirds of overall respondents expressed satisfaction with their employers’ commitment to racial equity, BIPOC women were less likely to express satisfaction on this point.

 

The Broken Rung

McKinsey & Company’s points out in the Women in the Workplace 2023 report that a major issue for women — especially women of color — is the “broken rung” on the career ladder:

“For the ninth consecutive year, women face their biggest hurdle at the first critical step up to manager. This year, for every 100 men promoted from entry level to manager, 87 women were promoted. And this gap is trending the wrong way for women of color: this year, 73 women of color were promoted to manager for every 100 men, down from 82 women of color last year. As a result of this broken rung, women fall behind and can’t catch up.”

 

The report goes on to point out, “Women are often hired and promoted based on past accomplishments, while men are hired and promoted based on future potential. This unfair thinking — rooted in what social scientists refer to as ‘performance bias’ —can be particularly challenging.”

 

Employer Takeaways

McKinsey & Company’s Women in the Workplace 2023 report offers some practical tips for fixing the broken rung for women, with a focus on women of color. The first is to track — by race, by gender, and by race and gender combined — who is recommended for and who receives promotions. They also recommend intentional steps to remove bias from performance reviews, including seasonal anti-bias training. Lastly, McKinsey recommends investing in career development programs that help reduce barriers experienced by women of color — like mentorship and sponsorship programs that increase access to senior leaders.

 

The Community Survey of Women in the Workplace repeatedly found that size matters. Women who work for large organizations are consistently less satisfied than women working for small and mid-sized organizations. Larger organizations may want to explore tools and methods — like System Resource Groups (SRG's) — to foster a smaller-company culture with an emphasis on relationships and trust-building.

 

Given the significant differences in satisfaction levels among generations, employers — especially larger ones — might consider pulling at the generational thread to secure greater understanding within their organization. The notable dissatisfaction of Gen X women could be attributed to gendered ageism, which the Society for Human Resource Managers says affects women in their 40s and beyond, producing a double jeopardy for Gen X women who feel they should be at a higher level given their years of professional experience. According to the U.S Census Bureau, the average retirement age for women in the U.S. is 63 (compared to 65 for men). By overlooking women 20+ years before their likely retirement, employers are missing out on the experience and perspective these seasoned professionals offer.

 

The overall low satisfaction with hiring and advancement policies also merits further exploration by employers, as does the performance review process. Internal focus groups could provide insights and meaningful suggestions for how those processes could be improved. Qualitative suggestions from 2023 REACH Women’s Conference attendees included:

  • Realignment of policies to prioritize diversity of women, with more inclusive and diversity goals at all levels of the organization

  • Implementation of career ladders

  • Review process tied to performance

 

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