Women in the Workplace: The gap between perceived and effective allyship

This content is sponsored by McKinsey & Company.

A recent study conducted by McKinsey & Company and LeanIn.org calls attention to the current state of women in corporate America.

Women in the Workplace surveyed over 400 companies, representing 12 million employees across public and social sectors. The study focused on the overall pipeline for women across various levels within organizations and more importantly, their experiences in the workplace.

“One of the most important findings in our report over the last couple of years is that the experience of women of color is particularly challenging,” said Sarah O’Rourke, a partner at McKinsey & Company.

One in eight women of color is a double “only,” meaning they are the only woman and the only person of their race or ethnicity in the workplace. Studies have shown that being an “only” can be detrimental to women feeling connected and motivated, especially in a hybrid environment.

In addition to being an “only,” studies show that women of color are far more likely to experience discriminatory behavior in their day-to-day interactions on the job.

The most significant experiences are around microaggressions, like attributing a person of color’s idea to a white male, or regularly interrupting, or using language that’s not inclusive, said O’Rourke. Despite companies’ growing commitments to diversity, equity and inclusion, microaggressions against women of color persist and are often overlooked.

O’Rourke said the counter to microaggression is effective allyship.

Interestingly, allyship is where women of color see the biggest gap. According to the report, seventy-five percent of white employees believe that they are a good ally. Still, only 20 percent of those employees advocate for women of color, and less than half of them serve as an ally overall.

What is an ally? An ally is typically someone within the organization who is publicly advocating and creating opportunities for women of color and standing up when they see discrimination. To effectively close the gap between perceived and effective allyship, O’Rourke said people need to educate themselves about race.

“Assuming the change will come from the person experiencing the challenge is not a fair assumption or expectation,” said O’Rourke. The goal is to move from intent to action. Men, in particular, need to step up in the same ways women are in terms of taking on the burden of individual mentorship and taking up the helm of DEI efforts as well.

Agencies that are leading the pathway to change are those that have leaders at the top who are prioritizing DEI efforts, putting women of color in senior roles, and recognizing leaders that are upholding those commitments.

Companies investing in racial equity are encouraged to follow the data. Having a clear understanding of the challenges women face in the workplace is the best way to identify the changes that need to be made.

To read the full Women in the Workplace report or take part in the next survey, visit

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