Does your gender limit your opportunities at work? Depends on who you ask

Sheryl Sandberg: Men rule the world, it's not going well
Sheryl Sandberg: Men rule the world, it's not going well

Does your gender hinder your chances to advance at work? The answer probably depends on whether you're asking a man or a woman.

Around 39% of women said their gender "will make it harder to get a raise, a promotion or a step ahead," according to the 2017 Women in the Workplace report, released by McKinsey & Company and In contrast, just 15% of men said the same. Women were also less likely to say they had equal opportunity for growth in the workplace.

The survey asked more than 70,000 employees about their workplace experiences.

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And the promotion problem starts early. According to Rachel Thomas, president of, women face the biggest obstacle when they're being promoted from entry-level roles to managerial roles. Women in entry-level positions are 18% less likely than their male peers to get promoted to the next step up.

"For the second year in a row, we see women hitting the glass ceiling much earlier than we traditionally thought," Thomas says. "That has an impact on the entire pipeline. We're losing so many women at that critical step up. And on average, they never catch up."

And this isn't due to lack of career aspiration from female employees. Women ask for promotions and raises at the same rates as men.

Thomas says she suspects it's from seeing a lack of opportunity for women in leadership.

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"Look at the beginning of the pipeline: 18% of women aren't being promoted, and then you look at the end of the pipeline, and in the C-suite only one in five senior leaders are women and less than one in 30 senior leaders are women of color," Thomas says. "The data tells a pretty sad story."

Advancement is particularly challenging for women of color. The report's findings point out several obstacles: women of color are less likely to be promoted than their white peers, perhaps because they're also less likely to have contact with senior executives in their organizations.

A study from iCIMS, a talent acquisition software company, explored a similar phenomenon, looking particularly at women in STEM fields. In their survey, more than 62% of female executives they surveyed said they've been passed over for a promotion in favor of someone of the opposite gender.

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Susan Vitale, chief marketing officer of iCIMS, says mentorship plays a huge role in this issue.

"Women felt that they were far less likely to find a mentor than men did, and we see that mentorship could play a tremendous role in career advancement," she says.

Vitale says the survey responses pointed to a crucial problem women face once they enter the STEM workforce -- one that persists despite women's career aspirations.

"You see women coming into the field of STEM and they aren't finding career advancement, and they feel that they are underpaid more than men are, and they feel if they go out on leave they won't be promoted anyway -- a lot of those barriers are stacking up against them," she says. "Even though they're more interested in rising up through the ranks."

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