Women Are Experiencing Burnout More Than Men

McKinsey’s Women in the Workplace 2021 report spotlights how the pandemic has unevenly affected women and what the emphasis on well-being and diversity, equity, and inclusion means for the future of work.

Author: Michelle Russell       

packing up office

One in three women reports they have considered downshifting their careers or leaving the workforce this year, according to a report from McKinsey & Company.

What rises to the top of the takeaways from McKinsey & Company’s recently published Women in the Workplace 2021 report? Women are now more significantly burned out — and increasingly more so than men. One in three women reports they have considered downshifting their careers or leaving the workforce this year, compared to the one in four who said that a few months into the pandemic in 2020. (We reported on last year’s report in Convene as well.) Additionally, two out of five women have considered leaving their company or switching jobs, and high turnover in recent months suggests that may be taking place.

The largest study on the state of women in corporate America, McKinsey’s Women in the Workplace has collected the responses of more than one-quarter of a million people about their workplace experiences since the company first partnered with Leanin.Org in 2015 on the annual survey. This year’s study focused on the impact of the pandemic and the growing emphasis on diversity, equity, and inclusion on the experiences of women and the state of work.

Different Leadership Skills

While the survey points to gains women have made in representation and senior leadership, the report also indicated that women at all levels are taking on extra work and doing more than men at the same level to support their teams and advance DEI efforts — work that is going unrecognized and unrewarded, meaning that it is not included in formal evaluations like performance reviews.

Compared to men in similar positions, women are consistently doing more to promote employee well-being, such as checking on members of the team, helping them to manage their workloads, and offering to help those who are dealing with burnout or work/life challenges.

Intersectionality Issues

Women of color, on the other hand, lose ground at every step of the corporate ladder, leaving Asian, Latinx, and Black women severely underrepresented at the top. Women overall lost the most ground at the first step up to manager. For every 100 men promoted to manager, only 86 women are promoted. But here there was some positive movement: For the first time, women of color were promoted to manager at almost the same rate as women overall — 85 women of color were promoted for every 100 men.

Putting up With More

Women in leadership also are more likely to face microaggressions than men: 36 percent of women female leaders vs. 15 percent of male leaders report being interrupted or spoken over more than others, and 34 percent of women leaders say they have had their judgment questioned in their area of expertise, vs. 22 percent of men at the same level.

Moving Forward

Hybrid work is clearly here to stay, but what is unclear is whether companies can leverage another seismic shift that has also taken place as a result of the pandemic — a growing cultural focus on employee well-being and racial and gender equity — to create a better workplace for the future.

“This will demand a level of investment and creativity that may not have seemed possible before the pandemic, but companies have shown what they can do when change is critical,” the report concludes. “Now they need to treat women’s equality and diversity, equity, and inclusion with the same sense of urgency — and they need to reward the leaders taking us into the future.”

Michelle Russell is editor in chief of Convene.