The Great Resignation (US)

How to Level the Playing Field for Women in the Workplace

After polling over 1,000 American employees (half of whom are women), we came to the conclusion that the Great Resignation is, at its core, a story about Americans’ shifting expectations about their work lives. But not all employees have the same experience on the job: Women’s relationship with the workplace has always been more complicated than that of their male counterparts.

First off, the gender-based wage gap exists: In 2020, women earned 84% of what men earned.  And, although efforts are being made to break down the glass ceiling, women are still woefully underrepresented in management positions—especially women of color. Work/life balance is also often a challenge thanks to ‘the second shift’, with most women working for pay and also shouldering the brunt of domestic responsibilities.

glass-ceiling index

Below, we’ll take a look at how women in our survey faced particular challenges, and expressed different experiences regarding this great rethinking of work.

In 2020, women earned 84% of what men earned.

Internal mobility 

Many of our survey respondents are reassessing their job prospects because of work that’s underpaid or unfulfilling. But when it comes to engaging with management to make changes, their responses differed based on their gender. 

For instance, of those who recently quit their jobs (or are considering it), women were more likely than men to not ask for internal mobility options, either because they didn’t think their employer would give them what they wanted (31% vs 20%), or because it wouldn’t have made them want to stay (28% vs 15%).

asking for internal mobility

Women were more likely than men to not ask for internal mobility options.


Part of the issue could be one of self-confidence; more women assuming, correctly or incorrectly, that their career development aspirations won’t be taken seriously—so why bother asking? 

In fact, the aspirations for those who left or want to leave their jobs are the same for both genders—most want to start their own business. However, no matter what their desired next step, men are more likely (58%) to say they “absolutely” have the necessary skills to succeed in it, whereas women mostly say they “somewhat” do (53%).

starting new jobs for women

Interestingly, when it comes to the link between learning and promotions, perceptions also seem to differ based on sex. While most men think being promoted is the only way to acquire new skills, women disagree:

how women see promotions


It might also be that women who are handing in their notice have simply decided their workplaces aren’t healthy, with or without career development: Of the people in our survey who quit because of burnout, 72% were women, and while men’s clear preference for why they quit was low salary, for women, burnout and low salary were tied. As one female respondent put it, “I'm overworked and exhausted, and no one around me seems to care about physical or mental health.”

I'm overworked and exhausted, and no one around me seems to care about physical or mental health.

why women quit

As McKinsey notes in their 2021 Women in the Workplace report, “Women are even more burned out now than they were a year ago, and burnout is escalating much faster among women than among men. One in three women says that they have considered downshifting their career or leaving the workforce this year, compared with one in four who said this a few months into the pandemic.”

The missing rung

Whatever the reason for not pursuing internal mobility, the issue is particularly troubling, since women remain underrepresented in management positions. One of the main reasons is that fewer women take the first step into management at the lower levels, meaning that the pool to recruit from for women in leadership positions gets smaller and smaller the higher up the hierarchical ladder one goes. 

As the same McKinsey report explains, “Despite gains for women in leadership, a “broken rung” in promotions at the first step up to manager was still a major barrier in the past year. For every 100 men promoted to manager, only 85 women were promoted.” 

This problem is even more prominent for women of color. “Only 58 Black women and 71 Latinas were promoted. As a result, women remained significantly outnumbered at the manager level at the beginning of 2020—they held just 38 percent of manager positions, while men held 62 percent.” 

It will be difficult to reach gender parity at all levels of an organization if this initial step up continues to get in the way, which is why suitable coaching and career development programs dedicated to women are crucial.

For every 100 men promoted to manager, only 85 women were promoted.

Relationships at work 

When it comes to workplace hierarchies, underrepresentation isn’t the only issue. For those opting for resignation due to stress, men say they get on better with their managers, rating their relationships as “great” (38%), women in this category say theirs is just “ok” (38%).

how women see their relationship with their manager

While their relationships with their managers might be lukewarm, that doesn’t mean the women in our survey don’t prioritize the social aspect of work. For those who miss working in person, men say it’s mostly because communication is better in person, while women give equal weight to communication and feeling part of a team.

what women miss about in person work

“Women’s work”

So, how fulfilling do women in our survey find their jobs? Of those working and not looking to quit, men said they were slightly more fulfilled at their job than women (88 vs 85 median score). 

But, for those who said they didn’t feel fulfilled in their job, women were much more likely to say it was because their work wasn’t valued. For men, it was because there was no room for career development—their work not being valued was the second least chosen response.

women feeling unfulfilled at work

Interestingly, when asked if they found it difficult to balance job and family responsibilities, men found it significantly more difficult. On a scale of 1 to 100, with 100 being ‘extremely difficult’, and 0, ‘not at all’, women answered a median of 55 - men, 73. This was true even for younger men (aged 18 - 24) with children, who came in at 70 - women came in at 62.

What does seem to be clear is the importance of work for men’s self-identity: Of those who hadn’t recently quit and weren’t considering it, men reported that their jobs were a bigger part of their self-identity, with a median score of 86, versus 68 for women.

job as self identity

How L&D can help

Women face a particular set of challenges in the workplace, many of which were exacerbated due to the pandemic. With mounting concern that the women who left the workforce due to COVID won’t return, it’s more important than ever for L&D teams to support women in the workplace. They can do this through:

  • Implicit bias training. It’s crucial that hiring managers and anyone involved in the recruitment process are aware of any implicit bias they may have, and are given the tools to eliminate it. But this type of training should also be applied to managers when promoting employees, to help fix the ‘broken rung’ that continues to keep women from climbing the organizational ladder.
  • Keeping an eye on remote work policies. Are you sure your remote work policies aren’t favoring male employees? If more women choose to work from home, with they be locked out of certain professional development opportunities, whether formally or informally? Be sure to check in with employees and managers to be sure that some workers aren’t being inadvertently left behind. You can read how 360Learning runs its remote working policy, here
  • Coaching and mentorships focused on women’s development. Organizing coaching and mentoring programs aimed at supporting women’s growth is an excellent way to ensure this group gets a fair shot at internal mobility. For instance, at 360Learning, we have a Women@360 Developmental Coaching program that enables women at the company to identify personal growth areas and work to improve them with a personal coach.
  • Reviewing your numbers. It’s crucial for HR teams to comb through their data to understand where bias and representation issues might be lurking. Hiring, promotions, bonuses, salaries…as we’ve argued on our blog, we believe full transparency is vital to leveling the playing field for all employees, and communicating openly about how women are faring at your company is the first step to identifying areas of improvement.  
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