It’s 10am. Do You Know Where Your Employees Are?


Last week’s release of the Women in the Workplace 2022 report from LeanIn.Org and McKinsey & Company was unsurprising to anyone who has been paying attention the past couple of years. The report, based primarily on surveys of 40,000 employees in 333 organizations, provides data for the things many people, especially women and even more especially Black women and other women of color, have been saying to each other over the past few years. The report is valuable not just for saying the quiet part out loud but also for backing it up with numbers.

Data is persuasive precisely because so many people view it as objective even when they might question the individual testimony of women.

I helped run a survey in my organization about Working from Home early in the pandemic, in mid-2020, that found very similar core results. While there are concerns about remote work, it has a number of benefits. Notably, it gives caregivers more flexibility, reduces the number of microaggressions and other acts of discrimination that many employees deal with on a daily basis, and it provides disabled employees greater autonomy in working in ways that best accommodate their needs.

My senior leadership took the issues more seriously once they saw our data. I hope senior leaders around the country will take similar note of the data in the new report.

Note that we also need to also pay more attention to the broader failures that remote work is a band-aid for: caregiving support, disability accommodations, and combating racism, sexism, and other forms of discrimination. But remote work is one thing employers can do to help mitigate the harm from those failures.

While demonstrating the value of data, the report also highlighted the small number of organizations tracking their organizational data in ways that can help them move the needle on DEI goals.

A recent Harvard Business Review article highlighted another way that data can be better employed. Too often, according to Elizabeth Weingarten and Liz Kofman-Burns, well-intentioned DEI programs fail to live up to expectations. The authors focus on the example of leadership development programs that use informal selection processes. They argue,

“When informal means are used to select employees for opportunities like mentorship, leadership coaching or other high-potential programs it’s all too likely that our biases about who has potential (according to research: tallattractivewhitemen) come into play. Since leadership development opportunities tend to beget other opportunities, the problem of inequitable selection compounds over time.”

The Women in the Workplace 2022 report suggests that senior leaders will need to be cognizant of another area of bias: remote workers may be passed over for advancement and professional development. Informal selection processes are likely to reward those who are in the office for informal chats and happy hours after work.

If women, caregivers, people with disabilities, and Black and other employees of color are more likely to take advantage of remote work, they are also more likely to be left out of informal networking opportunities.

Managers can counteract that tendency, but first, they need to understand that it is happening. The Women in the Workplace 2022 report points out both that managers have a huge impact on employee experience — and that managers are often inadequately trained in DEI issues, supporting morale, and minimizing burnout on their teams. First, managers and senior leaders need to track data on who is being retained and why — which also means identifying who is leaving and, if possible, why.

Many departing employees are understandably reticent about their real reasons for leaving an organization. Trends in organizational data can give us some ideas, though. If an organization is seeing much higher turnover among its few women managers, that suggests a need to look into how those managers are being supported, whether they are facing discrimination and harassment, and how they are being reviewed. Attention on recruitment and hiring of diverse workforces has rightly gotten a lot of attention, but retention and advancement need similar attention.

Employers need to pay attention to trends in turnover and retention. Ambitious employees are often leaving in search not just of advancement, but of advancement within cultures that have better work-life balance. They may also be leaving a workplace where they faced daily harassment and discrimination, but they probably won’t say so because of a fear of “burning bridges.”

Do you know if your employees really want to be back in the office? While many employers have been eager to get employees back in the office and “get back to normal,” their employees, especially women employees and employees of color, are much more hesitant. The pandemic proved that remote and hybrid organizations can often work effectively. It’s important to ask employees what they want and be creative about how to manage the changing workforce.

It’s even more important to try to listen to the silences in organizational data. Most of us have been asked to complete surveys for our employers. Telling the truth in those surveys may feel risky, even when surveys promise anonymity. Many of us know people who have faced repercussions for their responses to supposedly anonymous surveys. Silence — or the absence of responses — is itself valuable data.

Why do only 1 in 10 women want to be back in the office full-time? There are many reasons, but your office culture might be one. I promise you that many of those women are ambitious and want to advance their careers. How is your organization going to facilitate the advancement of all of your excellent employees?

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