Women in the Workplace 2021 Report: The “Broken Rung” Remains Fractured (But We Know How to Fix It)

“We need to double and triple down on the broken rung – it’s a numbers game,” said Rachel Thomas, CEO and Co-Founder at LeanIn.org, during the recent Wall Street Journal event devoted to discussing and elevating the issues to support, nurture and retain women in the workplace.


According to the Women in the Workplace 2021 Report from LeanIn and McKinsey and Co., “Since 2016, we have seen the same trend: women are promoted to manager at far lower rates than men, and this makes it nearly impossible for companies to lay a foundation for sustained progress at more senior levels.”


Data from the report shows that for every 100 men promoted to manager, only 86 women advance. Additionally, women of color continue to lose ground throughout each stage of the leadership pipeline – between the entry level and the C-suite, the representation of women of color drops off by more than 75 percent. As a result, women of color account for only four percent of C-suite leaders, a number that hasn’t seen much movement over the past three years.


Women’s representation in management and leadership positions is at risk of continuing to dwindle due to a few other trends highlighted in the Women in the Workplace report, including:


  • One in three women says they have considered downshifting their careers or leaving the workforce this year, compared to one in four who said this a few months into the pandemic. This number increases to 40 percent for women who are responsible for managing teams.


  • Forty-two percent of women often or almost always feel burned out compared to 30 percent of men. This number jumps to more than 50 percent for women who are responsible for managing teams.


  • Four in 10 women have considered leaving their company or switching jobs – and high employee turnover in recent months suggests that many of them are following through – a record 15 million U.S. employees have quit their jobs since April.


What can companies do to repair this “broken rung?” When we developed the Aurora platform, initially to help companies support early career women, we researched what supports women said they wanted and needed to thrive and grow in their careers, and combined that data with our own findings of what was needed to bring women back to work after a career break. We learned that much of what women need to return to work is similar to what they need to remain at work. Here’s what we learned:


Foster Belonging & Community


According to the report, to create a better workplace, “it will require pushing beyond critically important but smaller wins in the representation of women, and doing the deep cultural work necessary to create a workplace where all women, and all employees, feel like they belong.

The pandemic has blurred the lines between work and personal lives – the report shows that more than one-third of employees feel like they need to be available for work 24/7, and almost half believe they need to work long hours to get ahead. However, the increased tie to work without a strong human connection has also led to increased feelings of isolation for many employees. The results are higher reports of burnout and attrition as part of what some are calling the “Turnover Tsunami.”



When employees feel they belong and see real evidence that they are valued, they perform better, are more engaged, and more likely to stay. Aurora fosters belonging and community by connecting women in a psychologically safe space to learn, share experiences and gain real-life advice from other women who have navigated similar work situations.


This sense of community and belonging is even more important as women rise the ranks and see fewer of their peers. We designed Aurora so women on the leadership path take a team-based journey to build their leadership skills in small cohorts, relying on each other and forging valuable networks. Data from the platform shows that 97 percent of participants feel more connected to their community of peers and 94 percent have increased confidence in their ability to do their job well.


Offer Expert Guidance


The Women in the Workplace report found that when managers take action to support employee well-being, employees are 27 percent more likely to be happy with their jobs, 28 percent less likely to feel burned out and 32 percent less likely to leave their company.


One way companies can take action to support their employees – particularly women – is by offering expert guidance to support women’s career growth and development, especially if they want to grow a more diverse next generation of leaders. With the Aurora platform, certified executive Guides with real-world experience offer mentoring and coaching support to women. Aurora Guides are vetted, experienced executives who provide women with virtual, expert-led training and support to help individuals stay on track with their development plans. The Guides also provide an outside perspective, so conversations and growth happen in a trusted space. By providing virtual support, Aurora can support women on their career journeys no matter an organization’s work environment – in-office, hybrid or fully remote.


Encourage Continuous, On-Demand Learning


As women balance work and home life, they are also taking on more responsibilities outside their job descriptions in the workplace – many of which often go unrecognized or don’t come into consideration during performance reviews. According to the Women in the Workplace Report, women leaders are investing 60 percent more effort than men into emotionally supporting their teams, including leading employee resource groups (ERGs) and DEI initiatives. Female managers are also more likely than men to help employees navigate work/life challenges, put in effort to ensure workloads are manageable, and take action to prevent or manage burnout.


With all these added responsibilities, it can be challenging for women to make time for their own learning and development priorities – which can put their career growth on pause and have a long-term impact on their path to leadership roles. The Aurora platform offers women access to on-demand resources including learning and leadership-building modules, assessments, Ask the Community, and the Real Leaders Real Stories video vault, giving women opportunities to access expert advice and learning content on their own schedule.


Take Action to Fix the Broken Rung


The 2021 Women in the Workplace report shows that while women have seen some important gains – including an increase in women’s representation across the pipeline since 2016 – women, especially women of color, remain significantly underrepresented in leadership roles.

The Aurora platform can help your organization provide the much-needed resources and support to fix the broken rung and build a more diverse workforce – learn more here.