Women in the Workplace: Statistics and Trends

Khadijah Plummer


Employee Engagement

Employees of companies with higher numbers of women are more likely to say they enjoy their jobs, that their role fits well into their life, and that they have opportunities to make a difference. 

Having more women in the workplace positively relates to overall employee engagement, retention, and satisfaction. That means prioritizing initiatives that support women in the workplace and encourage their recruitment is vital for all organizations.

As employers, it’s important to understand the needs of your female employees. You also need to identify what you can do to ensure that they feel engaged in their roles and at the company.

In this post, we’ll break down key statistics and trends on women in the workplace to help guide you in supporting female workers.

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Women in the Workplace: General Statistics

McKinsey’s recent report, Women in The Workplace, provides powerful insights on how women are viewed within companies.

Going forward in 2021 and beyond, work-life flexibility will be the top priority for employees – regardless of race or gender. This is followed closely by a call for more mentorship and sponsorship from leaders. 

44% Of companies today have three or more women in the C-Suite. Yet, 1 in 4 women believe that their gender has negative impacts in the workplace. These include being denied raises, promotions, and other opportunities for growth.

Here are six other noteworthy statistics about women in the workplace: 

  • 20% of women that took an extended leave say it hurt their career or financial standing 
  • 72% of senior-level women have partner who works, compared to 37% of senior-level men 
  • 81% of women have a partner that works full-time, compared to 56% of men 
  • 39% of women in dual-career relationships report doing most or all of the housework, compared to 11% of men
  • 32% of women believe disrespectful behaviour towards women is quickly addressed by company, compared to 50% of men 
  • 73% of women experience microaggressions and everyday slights rooted in bias 

When female employees work for an organization that makes them feel that they have an equal opportunity for advancement in a fair system, they’re much happier with where they work. In return, that company is where women choose to grow their career, stay longer, and recommend to others. 

Key action items for employers:

  1. Provide adequate support to managers
  2. Find sponsors for disadvantaged employees looking to move up
  3. Implement hiring practices that don’t promote bias

Women in the Workplace: Current Trends

According to Gallup, when it comes to seeking a new role, women are consumers of the workplace. They’re not just looking for a role that matches their skill-set. They’re looking for a role that best fits into their life as it is today. For instance, if they’re raising a young family, a rigid workplace is not ideal. 

The three biggest factors that women look at when considering new jobs are: 

  1. Ability to do what they do best 
  2. Greater work-life balance and personal well-being 
  3. Increased stability and job security 

When it comes to greater work-life balance and personal well-being, 60% of women rate these as being “very important” to them in new roles. This correlates to the fact that many women view work and life holistically.

Women want to work in roles that provide them with meaning. This prompts them to consider jobs that focus on their talents, and companies that have strong reputations and exhibit corporate social responsibility. 

To follow this, 52% of women view increased job stability and security as “very important” to them in a new role, and only 39% are concerned about increasing their income with a new role. 

Organizations that view their employees as people with diverse lives are generally a good fit for most women looking for a change in role or to re-enter the workforce after taking some time off. 

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State of the global workforce for women

Even though more women than ever are pursuing higher education around the world, the gender gap for employment rates is stagnant. And yet, by 2030, up to 160 million women in the workplace may need to transition into higher skill roles. 

Women are also currently in less than 33% of senior roles around the world, and carry a disproportionate amount of unpaid caregiving duties.

Notably, the more children a heterosexual couple has, the less hours the woman in the partnership works. Meanwhile, the men work more hours.

Around the globe, roughly 606 million women are taking on unpaid caregiving responsibilities, compared to about 41 million men. In Canada, 61.3% of women are in the workplace, and about  3 hours and 44 minutes are spent performing unpaid caregiving duties. That’s compared to 2 hours and 28 minutes for men. 

Since women are undertaking a great deal of emotional labour, it’s essential that when they are at work, they have a positive environment to thrive in. 

Key action items for employers:

  1. Ensure needs for work-life balance met
  2. Support women and families trying to balance caregiving and careers
  3. Audit your company’s stance on corporate social responsibility to draw in more female talent

How the Social Aspect of Work Benefits Women 

Human beings are inherently social creatures. We need positive and fulfilling interactions with one another to survive. This is especially true for women in the workplace.

According to Gallup, women who “strongly agree” that they have a work best friend are 63% more likely to be engaged in their roles. The 29% of women that don’t strongly agree that they have a work best friend are less likely to be engaged in their roles. 

Overall, when women are looking for a new place to work, they’re mindful of feelings such as trust, inclusion, and sense of belonging. 

If you’re an employer, strive to make your company a safe space for all of your employees. Create a space where they can build genuine, long-lasting relationships. You can start by: 

  • Promoting open communication at all levels 
  • Giving employees the opportunity to collaborate 
  • Encouraging people to get to know each other 
  • Organizing non-work-related social activities 

Having the opportunity to create meaningful relationships with colleagues provides women with a deep sense of affiliation to fellow employees. Strong bonds with their colleagues drive women to frequently perform positive actions that directly benefit the business. 

Women’s progress in the workplace

In the largest 500 companies, only 10.9% of senior executives are female. In these companies, 37% boast all-male leadership teams, and 21% of them have a single female leader. On the Fortune 500 list, the larger the female presence in leadership, the higher the status of a company. 

Fortune’s “most admired” companies have twice as many women in senior management roles than companies that they consider less reputable. In short, diversity makes companies more profitable, innovative, and respected in the business world. 

Women in the workplace outscore men in taking initiative and driving results. According to Penn Medicine, women’s actions are rooted in analysis and intuition, which are vital in decision-making processes. 

As science and business leaders enforce the importance of having women in the workplace at all levels, but especially leadership, the easier it should be for women to see progress in their careers.

Key action items for employers:

  1. Build a team to plan and execute social activities outside of work
  2. Strive for balance between males and females in leadership roles
  3. Allow women in the workplace aspiring to move up to have insight into the decision-making process

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Women in the Workplace: Gender Equality 

In about 50% of American families, women are the sole or co-breadwinners in their households. These same women also receive more Undergraduate and Graduate degrees than their male counterparts. 

Despite these numbers, women are earning less than men in every occupation. If we continue on this course, it will take until about 2059 for women in the workplace to achieve pay parity.  

The numbers are more dire for some racialized groups. For Hispanic women, it will take until about 2224 to achieve pay parity. For Black women, it will take until about 2130. 

However, if we continue to be persistent about pay equality, we can reduce poverty levels among women by more than 50%. For the U.S. economy alone, this has the potential to add up to $513 billion. 

How to empower women in the workplace 

With social reactions to gender inequality and sexual harassment, like the #MeToo and Time’s Up movements, women’s voices are louder than ever in the workplace. 

Since the rise of these movements, a reported 60% of male managers are no longer comfortable participating in frequent work activities with women. That includes mentoring them, and working alone with them. 

While it’s unfortunate that male workers believe they have to be more cautious around their female colleagues, women in the workplace are more empowered to denounce toxic work environments. 

Not only are women leaving roles that have been damaging to their mental and emotional health. They’re also making their walkouts public. If any wrongdoing prompted their departure, women in the workplace are making other women aware of their situations.

Whether they want to or not, companies will have to boast more transparent work cultures.

Transparency is all about being open, and openness is related to sharing power. A lack of transparency negatively impacts promotion practices and salaries – especially for female employees. 

Key action items for employers 

  1.  Move towards being a results-driven organization
  2.  Make maternity leave more affordable and accessible
  3.  Have a process in place for women on maternity leave to gradually come back to work
  4.  Improve internal communications to foster a culture of transparency

Women’s Rights in the Workplace

Lack of advancement for women in the workplace can present itself in several forms. That said, it’s important to understand your rights as a female worker, and have the tools to recognize when your rights are being violated.

Some of the most common violations of women’s rights in the workplace include: 

  • Not being hired because of your sex
  • Receiving a lower-paying position because of your sex
  • Held to different or higher standards because of your sex
  • Experiencing harsher evaluation from leadership because of your sex 
  • Making less money than someone of a different sex that is less qualified, or has less job duties 
  • Denied a promotion, pay raise, or training opportunity because of your sex
  • Written up, insulted, or referred to as a gender you don’t identify with because of your sex 
  • Subject to unwelcome sexual advances because of your sex 
  • Rejected, forced to take an earlier leave, or receiving fewer assignments due to pregnancy 

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Again, it’s important to know and understand your rights as a woman in the workplace. Most of these are common sense, and include: 

  1. Working in a safe, discrimination-free environment. 
  2. Being able to talk about gender discrimination, whether it’s happening to you, or you see it happening to someone else. 
  3. Feeling comfortable reporting discriminatory behaviour to Human Resources (HR) or your boss. 
  4. Having the information you need to file a grievance.
  5. Taking time away from your job duties to picket or protest in the name of gender discrimination. 
  6. Making personal companies of performance evaluations, employee history, and pay history in case you choose to pursue legal action. 

If you feel that one of your rights as a working woman have been violated, bring it to the attention of your boss and Human Resources department immediately. As women in the workplace continue to progress, it’s important that we call out indecencies as they happen. 

How to Stop Discrimination Against Women in the Workplace 

Women in the workplace are willing to make less money if they have more flexible hours in exchange. According to Forbes, women also need access to informal networks, influential mentors, and stretch assignments to focus on. 

Additionally, women should receive job-sharing opportunities, and Work From Home options as often as possible, especially when data shows that being in an office doesn’t equate to improved results or productivity overall.

To alleviate discrimination against women, companies need to have policies in place to reflect gender parity. HR professionals should be working with leadership teams to identify female talent showing promise in all areas of the organization, and encouraging their leaders to track their career paths and accomplishments. 

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Discrimination of women in the workplace

According to The New York Times, the more educated women are, the bigger the gender gaps in seniority and pay they experience. As well in today’s workforce, 80% of women in their early 40s with doctorates or professional degrees are mothers. 

The nature of work has changed in ways that result in couples who have equal career potential embracing unequal roles. That includes the unpaid caregiving duties we spoke about earlier. 

This is a topic of concern because in the last two decades, employees have primarily earned more by working longer hours. At present, no gender gap exists between employees working extra long hours. Women with extreme schedules are paid just as much as men with the same sort of schedule. However, as women get the brunt of childcare duties, they’re blocked from this sort of earning potential.

Moving forward, we have to consider ways for women to access higher pay when working longer hours isn’t possible.

Discrimination against female leaders

Female leaders have already had the odds stacked against them when attempting to climb the ladder professionally. Once they land in those positions of power, women in the workplace still have to face negative perceptions from their colleagues. 

According to Fast Company, both women and men react more negatively to job criticism that comes from a female leader. Following such criticism, employees across the board became disinterested in working for the organization going forward. 

Employees are three times more likely to associate giving praise with female managers, and twice as likely to associate criticism with male managers. That’s why they react negatively: expectations have been violated. This leaves all parties feeling disengaged at work.

For women in the workplace, the leadership landscape looks like this: 

  • 37% of female managers are mid-level
  • 26% of female managers are senior-level 
  • 5% of female leaders are Chief Executive Officers 

Criticism from women in the workplace that are leaders also led to lower job satisfaction than criticism from male leaders. If employees receive feedback from female leaders so harshly, what’s going to happen to their management style?

Since providing feedback isn’t working in their favour, women in the workplace are compelled to use less effective management strategies if they’re already leaders. If they were thinking about pursuing a leadership role, they’re likely to become less interested. 

Discrimination against “Only” women in the workplace


According to Lean In, 20% of women say they are often an “Only” in the workplace. This is twice as likely to be the case for women in senior-level positions and technical roles.

Women in the “Only” position are also twice as likely to be asked by their leaders to prove their competence. They’re also more likely to be subject to derogatory comments, and sexually harassed. 

For People of Colour, about 38% of those in the workplace are often the only, or one of the only people of their race/ethnicity in the room. Females in this group are likely to feel like every move they make is being watched. Or, that their actions directly reflect on others of their same race.

On a positive note, 87% commit to achieving gender diversity in today’s workforce. Back in 2012, only 56% of companies were working towards improving this. 

There is still a great deal of work to be do in order to improve outcomes for marginalized groups of women in the workplace. But such a great increase in acknowledgement bodes well for progress.

Key action items for employers:

  1. Fund training for recruiters to hire and onboard new employees without bias
  2. Support female leaders with methods for delivering criticism
  3. Ensure all managers have current knowledge of effective leadership strategies

Black Women in the Workplace

Today’s social sector is the ideal breeding ground for systemic barriers and biases that negatively affect Black women in the workplace. In 1969, Black feminist activist Frances M. Beal coined the term “double jeopardy” to describe the simultaneous racism and sexism that Black women face. 

In the United States, Black women are paid 39% less than white men and 21% less than white women. These figures are alarming. Especially when we consider that 80% of Black women in the workplace who are mothers are the main breadwinners for their households. 

Although Black women are seeking advancement and promotions at the same rate as white female colleagues, they’re seeing worse results. On top of this, Black women are the most likely group in the workplace to have their judgment questioned despite their expertise. 

When it comes to the pay gap between Black women and other groups: 

  • 1 in 3 Americans don’t know about the pay gap between Black women and white men 
  • 53% of Americans are unaware of the pay gap between Black women and white women 
  • 50% of Americans believe obstacles to advancement for Black women no longer exist 

The lack of awareness around the state of the workplace for such a visible minority group is problematic.

Both fellow employees and employers need to ensure that they are aware of the issues that Black women face. They need to act as allies for them, and allow them the opportunity to move forward in their careers.

How to support racially diverse women in the workplace 

At every business level, women of colour are underrepresented. Women of colour, along with lesbian, bisexual, and disabled women are having the worst experiences in the workplace. 

For these groups, especially Black women and women with disabilities, there are more barriers to advancement in place, less support from managers, and less sponsorship. As a result, Black women and women with disabilities are: 

  • Unlikely to feel that they have an equal opportunity to grow and advance 
  • Not compelled to believe that the best opportunities go to those most deserving 
  • Less happy when they’re at work 
  • More likely to move on from the company 

Women who experience microaggressions at work are three times more likely to think about moving on from their jobs, which can be detrimental to retention rates and employee engagement levels. 

For every 100 men promoted to a management role, 68 Latinas and 58 Black women are promoted. When it comes to the C-Suite, 1 in 5 executives is a woman, and 1 in 25 of these women are women of colour.

“When you think about the women in the organization, someone who’s a first manager or a V.P., she can look up at the top and see role models, and women doing it. She’ll have more confidence that she can as well.” – Lareina Yee, Sr. Partner at McKinsey 

Key action items for employers:

  1. Ensure employees are aware of the hardships that minority colleagues face.
  2. Be a liaison to create sponsorship opportunities.
  3. Make diversity and inclusion a priority for your internal communications and employee engagement strategies.
  4. Create channels for women in the workplace to build relationships with people in similar positions, or positions they want to hold in the future

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In Conclusion

After reading all of this information around women in the workplace, you may be thinking about how to condense this information and share it with your fellow employees.

Whether you were moved by the statistics, or the larger issues that different groups of women face, it’s important that we discuss these topics to foster progress.

Even if your organization is doing well, there’s always room for improvement. Some things you can start doing immediately to address issues for women in the workplace include: 

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