A look at McKinsey’s DE&I initiatives: Women in the Workplace and Race in the Workplace studies

Hundreds of participating companies, thousands of surveyed employees, hundreds of in-depth interviews and focus groups: McKinsey’s Women in the Workplace and Race in the Workplace studies take a close look at work experiences of employees in the U.S. and Canada with the aim of advancing gender and racial equity in the workplace. Driven by McKinsey’s broader values and purpose, as well as a personal commitment to our diversity, equity, and inclusion (DE&I) mission, our legal colleagues worked with McKinsey consultants to support these initiatives from the development of the study to the end report.

Women in the Workplace (WiW) is the largest study of women in corporate America. Since its launch in 2015, WiW has collected information from more than 700 participating companies and surveyed more than a quarter million employees. The most recent report focused on the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and the growing emphasis on diversity, equity, and inclusion for the experiences of women.

Much like WiW, Race in the Workplace (RiW) is a multiyear study—but one that takes a comprehensive look at race and the role it plays in representation and workplace experience. The first report was published in February 2021 and looked at the challenges and opportunities for Black private-sector workers in the United States. The 2022 study is currently underway to study common threads of workplace experience among traditionally underrepresented workers.

McKinsey Legal’s commitment to our DE&I mission and pro bono work

The opportunity for Legal to support our WiW and RiW teams provides us a unique way to personally invest our time and expertise on a rewarding effort with novel legal challenges.

As the legal team supporting these initiatives and studies is itself diverse, being primarily composed of women—and also includes people from historically underrepresented groups—we feel a broad sense of connection to the experiences described in the reports and an increase in our drive to support initiatives that make the workplace at large better for all.

Navigating the legal waters with WiW and RiW

Our work on these studies goes well beyond employment concerns. The range of legal issues we encounter is quite broad. At the outset of the project, we establish protocols on how the teams handle the datasets from hundreds of companies and advise on privacy issues regarding that data. A critical piece of each report is the inclusion of company HR data, which is highly sensitive. To ensure that each company’s confidentiality is preserved, we support the creation of contracts with participating companies, which can include organizations in the public sector, setting terms on confidentiality, data security, and publicity. Our work also includes managing collaborations with third parties, like our external partners and vendors, as well as industry associations who help us recruit the critical mass of companies needed to create an industry benchmark.

A typical week of a lawyer supporting the WiW or RiW studies may include a problem-solving session with the study’s leadership about working with an external partner, reviewing draft survey questions, negotiating a participant agreement, liaising with other firm functions, and responding to data-privacy inquiries. The McKinsey teams leading these initiatives contact us almost daily to seek guidance and thought partnership at each stage of the project—from initial development to the final publication of the report.

Tailoring our legal work for the WiW and RiW studies

As WiW and RiW are large-scale initiatives resulting in widely publicized reports, the legal team has the opportunity to work side by side with the consultant team on content as well as legal structure. Legal works upfront with the study teams to establish one set of participation terms, uniform for all participants of the study, that ensures the large number of participants are treated consistently and onboarded quickly. In addition, because of the sensitivity of the DE&I topics involved, we take a close look at all the survey questions and individual interview questions to ensure compliance with US employment and data-privacy guidelines. Further, because of the highly public nature of the report, the legal team is involved in reviewing the end report as well as any related presentations, such as those provided to participating companies.

“Smart collaboration” is the key element of Legal’s support of WiW and RiW

These two reports are a true example of “smart collaboration,” as we work hand in hand and put our heads together across continents, expertise, and teams to drive impact and ensure we provide pragmatic and tailored counsel. The core WiW and RiW legal teams have strong contracting, data, intellectual property, and technology backgrounds. We, in turn, collaborate as needed with colleagues from people legal, the public sector, and data privacy. The benefit? We are able to operate across legal functions to provide holistic advice.

The Women in the Workplace and Race in the Workplace studies are large, complex undertakings that seek to examine difficult questions. While the resulting legal challenges may be commensurate, we find reward and passion in helping advance the goal of gender and racial equity in the workplace.