- Women who find themselves the only woman in work situations or meetings are one-and-a-half times more likely to consider leaving their jobs than other women, according to the fourth annual survey on the employment of women by Lean In.org and McKinsey & Company. In the poll of 64,000 employees, 1 in 5 women, nick-named "the Onlys," said they're often the only woman in meetings and work situations; 40% of women in leadership positions say the same thing. Among women of color, 41% reported being the only person of color, and 76% of LGBTQ women said they were the only LGBTQ employee present, as well.
- Most of the women polled (80%), versus two-thirds of women in general, said that the consequences they faced as "the Onlys" included experiencing higher incidences of sexual harassment, being mistaken for a junior-level staffer, having to prove their competency, being pressured to perform and feeling they have to be on guard at work. Also, women who are "the Onlys" have less interaction with senior leaders, which can mean that they're less likely to ask for and receive promotions, remain with their companies or aspire to join the leadership team.
- Of the 7% of men polled who said they're often the only male in work situations, most said they feel included and "fortunate to be there."
The results make the clear case for bringing more women on staff. Having only one woman in workplace situations has consequences that can undo employers' best intentions for recruiting, hiring and advancing women — and there are many noted business bonuses to hiring women, besides. Hiring women for leadership roles correlates with higher returns on investment (ROI), based on a 2017 Bloomberg Functions for the Market report. Another study, The State of the Workplace Gender Report, noted that women complete more work than men, despite the obstacles they encounter on the job.
In a tight job market with under 4% unemployment, employers can't afford to recruit and leave out (even accidentally) half of the population. Companies concerned about workplace gender representation and equity may need to complete a review of their recruitment and promotion processes to ensure bias has not crept in. Checking recruiting algorithms to anonymize the process, changing job descriptions to be more inclusive and training managers about the hidden impact of bias are all steps employers of any size can take to combat the issue.
The results also put a spotlight on organizations' cultures, where incidences of sexual harassment against "the Only" women are higher than the norm and where these women feel undermined, less competent and always on guard. A cultural overhaul that creates a work environment that's inclusive, respectful and non-tolerant of misconduct for all workers can go a long way in improving retention in the long run.