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Lean In with Emma

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– During my first meeting for the annual Women in the Workplace report, a five-year collaboration between McKinsey and Lean In, I looked up mid-meeting and realized something was different. It hit me: I was sitting in a boardroom full of women. It was the first time I could remember that ever happening to me. While it’s inspiring to see how we are working to close the gender gap, we still have work to do internally and in our role as trusted client advisors.

Empowering women is a responsibility I take seriously, and I know many of my McKinsey colleagues feel the same. But not everyone sees what we do. Too often, I hear people say the fight for equality is just about done, that women just need to work hard and soon enough we’ll reach parity. Note that the 2015 Women in the Workplace research estimated that at the current pace, it will take 100 years to reach equality in the C-suites of corporate America. Surely we can all agree that’s far too long to wait. We need to do more - now.

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Women in the Workplace research reminds us of the importance of both allies and action. We’ve found many women believe their employer cares about gender diversity, at least in theory, but they worry that that commitment isn’t backed up by real resources. This fundamental mismatch could leave women in a costly position – reaching for opportunities (one could say “leaning in”) with the promise of support that never materializes, then paying a penalty for even trying. Our research shows women who advocate for themselves are often seen as demanding and may pay a longer-term cost in terms of future advancement.

Organizations like McKinsey are helping lead the charge for change. Women in the Workplace Exhibit A: we’re devoting our talent and resources to creating this vital tool for businesses and advocates. It’s now the world’s largest dataset on this topic. And I’ve been inspired to see people of all genders at McKinsey involve themselves in the larger movement for equality, whether by participating in office Women’s Initiatives and Mostly Men’s Groups, or simply by engaging in rigorous, open-hearted conversations.

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When I was in fourth grade, I remember complaining to my mom one day that I wished she was like the other moms who waited outside the classroom before school let out and had freshly baked cookies at home. She explained to me that it was a great thing to have a mom who is passionate about her career and has interests beyond her kids. As a nine year old I thoroughly disagreed, but as an adult I’m eternally grateful for her role modeling and support.

Now I’m dedicating a year to Lean In – yet more proof of McKinsey’s commitment (my secondment is part of the third year business analyst program). I’m thrilled to have this chance to drive change more broadly. And I’m proud of McKinsey, for talking the talk and walking the walk.

McKinsey, Lean In, and Women in the Workplace aren’t the full solution – not even close. But we’re part of it. And I’m excited to be a part of it, too. In the words of Vincent Van Gogh, “Great things are done by a series of small things brought together”.

About Emma

Emma is a business analyst in the San Francisco office who has focused on customer experience and strategy work. She recently started a third year secondment at LeanIn.Org. In her free time, she is training for the Kauai half marathon and enjoys exploring the Bay Area’s food & wine scene.

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