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Why having just one woman on a team is bad for everyone

Posted on 18 February 2019
Why having just one woman on a team is bad for everyone

We've all read that companies perform better financially when they have a diverse and inclusive leadership. Despite that, many women find they're still alone in a roomful of men, increasing the odds that they will experience workplace discrimination.

According to McKinsey's latest Women in the Workplace report, 20 percent of women surveyed said they were often the only female in the room or one of very few. The figure is far higher in sectors like technology and engineering, and for women of color.


We found that women in unbalanced environments are more likely to:

  • have their judgment questioned (49 percent versus 32 percent),
  • to be mistaken for someone more junior (35 percent versus 15 percent), and
  • to be subjected to unprofessional and demeaning remarks (24 percent versus 14 percent). No wonder women get overlooked for promotions.


McKinsey and LeanIn.Org studied 64,000 employees and 279 companies in North America, and the resulting statistics show how frustratingly slow progress is toward gender equality in most companies. While nearly as many women as men are now taking white-collar jobs, female representation still diminishes as you move up the corporate ladder. Women make up just one in five C-suite executives. (BTW, at Davos this year only 22 percent of participants were female.)


How to break this cycle? On leadership or project teams, group several women together instead of scattering one woman to a team. Review processes for making promotions and filling vacancies to make sure the growing number of women in your company are making their way up. Find them, help them advance, and enlist them in the effort to overcome "onliness."


Finally, make use of the CEO transition period. We found that more than two-thirds of new CEOs replace at least half of the members of their top teams within two years. What a great (and underutilized) time to address the "only" problem.

From: McKinsey Quarterly January 2019

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Tags: Leadership

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