Despite 'Lean In,' workplace equality remains abysmal

Sheryl Sandberg on women vs. men
Sheryl Sandberg on women vs. men

The world is still decades away from gender equality in the workplace.

That's according to a new report released Thursday by Mercer, a global consulting company, which examined data of more than 1.7 million employees at 164 companies in 28 countries.

Businesses are ignoring female talent. Even though women make up 41% of the workforce globally, few make the decisions at the top. Instead, they're working support roles in lower levels.

Related: Sarah Silverman launches campaign to close wage gap

That's not to say progress hasn't been made. We are in the midst of Sheryl Sandberg's Lean In campaign and the #GirlBoss movement, but the numbers overall are still abysmal. Out of the organizations surveyed, 36% of women are at the managerial level, 26% are in senior management and only 19% are executives.

To get those numbers more balanced, Mercer found that it isn't enough to just provide women with programs like flexible work schedules and leave policies.

The only way to have true change is for management to make female leadership -- and equal pay -- a priority.

The gender pay gap 'hasn't been solved'
The gender pay gap 'hasn't been solved'

Related: Women build bigger businesses

"A significant number of CEOs and very senior male executives say the most important thing is that their senior executives actually understand the economic development of having a diverse workforce and are held accountable," said Pat Milligan, president of Mercer's North America region.

She said teams should be expected to hire and develop their workforce to be as equal as possible, and that management should treat those expectations just like how employees have to hit sales or profit goals.

"They don't let people get away with not moving their needle," Milligan said.

There are some corporate bright spots including American Express (AXP), Kimberly Clark (KMB), Avon (AVP) and L'Oreal.

Related: More people prefer a male boss

At Kimberly Clark, for example, there's an entire team devoted to diversity analytics that looks at the participation and promotion rate for women employees in teams around the world.

American Express has initiatives that help women work their way up the ranks, including a mentorship program, workshops and special events.

"It's truly seen across the company as a way to drive our business growth," said American Express chief diversity officer Valerie Grillo.

About 60% of the 50,000 employees at American Express are women. Grillo said women in senior management have gone to bat for up-and-coming leaders to ensure that they rise through the company.

It seems to be working. Today, 39% of the company's executives are women. Four years ago that number was 37%.

"We're growing across the world," Grillo said. "For us to do that successfully we need to be able to have a diverse workplace."

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