Women in US – America has a “leaky” talent pipeline

Women have been a growing factor in the success of the U.S. economy since the 1970s. Indeed, the additional productive power of women entering the work force from 1970 until today accounts for about a quarter of current gross domestic product (GDP). Still, the full potential of women in the work force has yet to be tapped. As the United States struggles to sustain historic GDP growth rates, it is critically important to bring more women into the work force and fully deploy high-skill women to drive productivity improvement. “ write Joanna Barsh and Lareina Yee in on Potential of Women in U.S. Economy on while reporting on McKinsey & Co report Unlocking the full potential of women in the U.S. economy.

“Creating the conditions to unlock the full potential of women and achieve our economic goals is a complex and difficult challenge. At a macro level, there is significant potential to raise the labor participation rates of women across the country.” write Barsh and Yee. One could also point to the unemployment and under-employment problem as a source of economic, social and personal waste. But this is not the paper topic.

“At a corporate level, where many high-skill women are employed, the opportunity is to continue to advance women into leadership positions where they can make the greatest contributions. Despite the sincere efforts of major corporations, the proportion of women falls quickly as you look higher in the corporate hierarchy. Overall, this picture has not improved for years.” write Barsh and Yee.

“One clear takeaway: Women don’t opt out of the work force; most cannot afford to. They do leave specific jobs for others in pursuit of personal achievement, more money, and recognition – just like men. They do hold themselves back to pursue greater satisfaction across all parts of their lives – but not only to fulfill family responsibilities. Indeed, a sizable percentage of the male college graduates who took our survey reported the same motivation to gain greater balance.” In fact, write the authors, “corporate America has a ‘leaky’ talent pipeline.”


What holds women back asks the Report ( adapted extracts by JMM)

  • Structural obstacles: Specific factors hold women back or convince women that their odds of advancement may be better elsewhere. Familiar cited factors are: lacks of access to informal networks, of women role models higher up in the organization, of sponsors that can provide opportunities, which male colleagues have.
  • Lifestyle issues: motherhood, per se, rarely prompts a woman to stay put, downshift or look for work elsewhere. But concern about the always-on 24/7 executive lifestyle and travel requirements will. But attitudes among fathers and mothers are converging. Hence, companies have even more to lose from the talent pipeline than highly-qualified mothers.
  • Imbedded institutional and individual mindsets: “That job could never be done part-time.”


“Of all the forces that hold women back, however, none are as powerful as entrenched beliefs. While companies have worked hard to eliminate overt discrimination, women still face the pernicious force of mind-sets that limit opportunity.” write the authors. “Our evidence points to the need for systemic, organizational change. Companies that aspire to achieve sustained diversity balance must choose to transform their cultures. Management needs a powerful reason to believe, such as the potential competitive and economic advantage from retaining the best talent. “

Fully Tapping the Talent of High-skill Women

Women accounted for 53 percent of the total college-educated population in the United States. However, only 50 percent of the college-educated workers were women. Simply said, we don’t have the full amount of female college-educated talent in our work force.”

A Path to Solutions

“Knowing what we know about the role of women in driving macroeconomic growth and how women can contribute to corporations, it is clear that the United States must make far better use of women in the work force. Plugging the leaks in the talent pipeline is clearly a top priority and there are opportunities at every transition point in the pipeline. But we believe companies have a promising opportunity to capture by focusing on the transition from mid-level manager to senior management (typically the vice president role).”

“Our conclusion is that this systemic challenge can be met only through organizational transformation. This is a tall order. Our research on organizational change indicates that 70 percent of transformation efforts fail. However, the same research tells us that the transformations that succeed have strong leadership from the top and a comprehensive plan to shift mind-sets and behaviors.”

The report :

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