In the United States and worldwide, you can see that women in the workplace have made great strides when you look at some of the numbers For example, more women run companies and countries than at any point in history. They also hold more positions in national parliaments.

But those numbers remain too small. And even the success achieved to this point has come with a steep price. Many women are often expected to balance careers, maintain households, and raise children. These expectations lead to women experiencing burnout at a higher rate than men.

Working through those challenges requires employers to adopt policies that support women. Support that is vital to reverse an alarming trend. According to the Women in the Workplace report from McKinsey in partnership with Lean In, one in three women currently say they are considering downshifting their career or leaving the workforce this year. That’s a big jump from the one in four who said so a few months into the COVID-19 pandemic.

An Uphill Climb for Women in the Workplace

Women could not vote in the United States until the passage of the 19th Amendment in 1920. The national campaign to grant women the right to vote started in 1848–it took almost a century of protest and lobbying to achieve success. The struggle is an illustrative example of the uphill battle for equality women face.

Women held few positions outside of factory labor in the workplace when the 19th Amendment passed. Women started entering the workforce in greater numbers after World War II, but the numbers did not increase rapidly until the feminist movement in the 1960s. 

There’s a flip side to every piece of good news about women in the workplace. A record number of women lead global 500 businesses–but that’s only 23 companies. Jane Fraser became CEO of Citigroup in 2021, but she’s the first and only woman to run a major Wall Street bank. When Thasunda Brown Duckett became CEO of TIAA in 2021, she joined Roz Brewer, CEO of Walgreens Boots Alliance, as the only Black women CEOs of Fortune 500 companies.

The United Nations reports that only 24 countries have a woman serving as head of state or government. The UN reports that women would not reach equality with men in these positions for another 130 years at the current rate.

There’s a lot of room for improvement. Dr. Janet L. Yellen, former chair of the Federal Reserve Board, summed up the situation in a Brookings Institute article celebrating the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment. In that article, she writes that women’s “entry into paid work has been a major factor in America’s prosperity over the past century and a quarter. Despite this progress, evidence suggests that many women remain unable to achieve their goals.”

How to Support Women in the Workplace

It’s a pivotal time for changes in how organizations support women. The pandemic made it more difficult for some women to work full-time. Many had to juggle work and homeschooling. And there are persistent issues too.

  • Women earn about 84 percent of what men earn in the same position
  • About 86 women are promoted into management for every 100 men
  • Women remain underrepresented at all levels of the corporate ladder, from entry-level jobs to the C-suites
  • Women of color lose ground to white men, white women, and men of color at every step of the corporate pipeline

The McKinsey/Lean In report detailed ways that companies can support women in the workplace and help them avoid burnout. It starts with recognizing women leaders who drive progress and creating a work culture that values women. That includes limiting the “only” experience–being the only woman in a meeting room, for example, or the only woman of color in a department.

Work flexibility moved center stage in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. In many ways this impacted women the most as they juggled new modes of working with children forced into remote learning. Moving forward, lessons learned from the experience will codify these new hybrid and remote learning environments.

This shift to more workplace flexibility focuses job performance metrics on the quality of what is produced over when and where the work happens. For women, this flexibility also makes their work/life balance easier and more equitable.

The Kelley School of Business Women in Leadership Certificate

The Kelley School of Business at Indiana University offers a Women in Leadership Certificate program that addresses many issues women face as they climb the corporate ladder. It focuses on a number of issues that can hinder women’s progress: from internal self-doubt dialogue to the ways they are perceived by others when taking on leadership roles.

Through the certificate program, women learn to focus on their individual strengths and style, identifying ways to be perceived as both competent and congenial. Women in the program also conduct professional negotiations and learn to bridge the gap between masculine and feminine ways of thinking and communicating. The program is available online and in-residence.

Program courses include:

  • Leadership and Self-Awareness
  • Women and the Double Bind of Leadership
  • Effective Communication for Women
  • Negotiation for Women
  • Giving and Receiving Coaching

For generations of women, it’s been a long, uphill battle to make in-roads into the workplace. With women now facing a new set of challenges, including burnout, companies should offer them the support that recognizes and rewards their value.