Unlocking the full potential of women at work

Unlocking the full potential of women at work

Our 2012 study of 60 US companies provided a baseline for ongoing research by revealing how the representation of women falls in inverse proportion to seniority. Read the report, and watch McKinsey managing director Dominic Barton discuss its implications.

Report summary

Since 2007, McKinsey has been researching intensively the advancement of women in the workplace. The business benefits are clear: a wider, deeper swath of talent to solve problems, spark innovation, and, in many cases, mirror a company's own customer base.

Yet the top circles of corporate America remain stubbornly male—as in 2011, only 14 percent of women serve on executive committees, and only 3 percent serve as CEOs.

But these numbers don’t tell the whole story. For the second year in a row, we undertook an ambitious US-based research project—this time, with the help of 60 Fortune 500 or similarly sized companies. The research took a closer look at the progress these companies were making in advancing their women.

Among the highlights of the research, included in the full report, Unlocking the full potential of women at work:

  • McKinsey developed four metrics that can serve as hallmarks of a truly gender-diverse company. They include a starting position that reflects individual talent; the number of women at the top of the organization; odds of promotion equivalent to men; and the mix of women in line roles versus staff roles (Exhibit).
  • Of the companies whose talent pipelines we reviewed, only 12 met three out of the four measures for success. None fulfilled all four.
  • Among the highest-achieving companies, two archetypes of talent pipelines emerged: "fat" funnel companies, which started with a remarkably high number of women (well over 50 percent in their pipelines) and then moved a still-impressive amount of women (in some cases up to 40 percent) into senior roles; and "steady" pipelines, companies that started with a smaller mix of women early on but retained them as they progressed through the pipeline.
  • Interviews with some 200 successful women yielded intriguing insights: despite their career success, 59 percent of women said they did not aspire to the C-suite.
Unlocking the full potential of women at work
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Dominic Barton: Key findings from our latest research on women executives

On May 1, Dominic Barton, McKinsey's managing director, addressed the Wall Street Journal's Task Force for Women in the Economy. "The big news for me this year," he said, "was our analysis of the power of the middle of the talent pipeline...where some companies are creating the conditions in which women can thrive."