Who is the most forgotten woman in the room?

I must admit, I got a little excited when I saw the landing page photo for the 2021 The Women in the Workplace 2021 from McKinsey and LeanIn.Org (you’ll have to check to see why!)

But that excitement was quickly replaced by disappointment when I observed an oversight within the report itself!

There were a few things that stood out for me;

  • Women are even more burned out now than they were a year ago, and the gap in burnout between women and men has almost doubled.
  • In the past year, one in three women has considered leaving the workforce or downshifting their career — an increase from the one in four cited in the early months of the pandemic.
  • Women of color continue to face significant bias and discrimination at work, experiencing microaggressions, at similar relative frequencies, as they were two years ago.
  • The challenges for ‘Onlys’ (the only person of their race/gender in the room at work) and ‘double Onlys’ (the only woman in the room and the only person of their race in the room) have a much worse experience, facing even more bias, discrimination, and pressure to perform, and they are even more likely to be experiencing burnout. Their successes and failures are often put under a microscope, and they are more likely to encounter comments and behavior that reduce them to negative stereotypes.

But I think they overlooked a third group, the “Triple Onlys” women who are not just the only race and gender in the room but also the oldest generation (50+) in the room.

These women face the additional whammy of ageism — and they face this discrimination earlier than men because of society’s emphasis and value placed on youth and beauty. This results in less sponsorship, unequal compensation, fewer avenues to advancement and as women over 50 show visible signs of aging, their competence and relevance are questioned.

But organizations are missing out on a valuable resource, as these women have accumulated years of wisdom and experience and have learned many lessons that can be of value to their colleagues.

So a couple of questions;

  • Leaders, how does your organization nurture and leverage the value of your “triple onlys”?
  • Ladies, how are you as a “triple only” valued in your organization?

Janice Sutherland is founder of This Woman Can an award winning women’s leadership and career development company for professional women of color. She provides coaching and training specializing in helping women and organizations build leadership and career skills through Executive Mentorship, Leadership Training and Executive Team Facilitation globally. She is a sought after keynote presenter for corporate and nonprofit environments and speaks on issues relating to leadership, women’s advancement, professional success and work/life alignment. For more details, visit www.janicesutherland.com

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