Do you feel “only”?

A McKinsey report on women in the workplace, which examined 279 American companies, found that 20 percent of women are often the only female in the room. This proportion rises to 45 percent for women of color.

By contrast, only 7 percent of men commonly found themselves to be the only male in the room. And yet more and more women are joining the workforce.  

 

If a woman is the only female on a team, she is likely to be discriminated against, be mistaken for someone more junior, have her expertise questioned, or have to do more than her male colleagues to prove her worth.  These gaps are harmful to all; isolated women are more likely to quit their job.  What can you do to limit this “onliness”? 

  • Group women together. As far as possible, bring together several women on a team, even if that means having some teams with no women at all. This enables you to achieve a critical mass in mixed teams. 
  • Examine your recruiting and promotion processes to ensure that roughly as many women as men are joining the organization, apart from specific sectors. 
  • Increase the number of female managers. A change of CEO usually leads to at least half and up to two-thirds of top managers being replaced. Grab the opportunity. 
  • Get middle management involved. They know their teams best, so they have a key role to play in supporting isolated women. 

The report also highlights the importance of sponsors in making women more visible and thus exposing them to development opportunities. 

To go further: “One is the loneliest number” by Kevin Sneader and Lareina Yee (McKinsey Quarterly, January 2019)