In this episode of MoFo Perspectives, Morrison Foerster partner Carrie Cohen hosts a podcast with McKinsey & Company's Joanna Si to discuss findings of McKinsey's seventh annual Women in the Workplace 2021 report.


Speaker: Welcome to MoFo Perspectives, a podcast by Morrison & Foerster, where we share the perspectives of our clients, colleagues, subject matter experts, and lawyers.

Carrie H. Cohen: Welcome, everyone. I'm your host for today, Carrie Cohen. I'm a partner at Morrison & Foerster in the New York office and co‑chair of our Investigations + White Collar group. Today, we're going to discuss a few major findings from the McKinsey & Company's seventh annual Women in the Workplace report. That report is the largest study of women in corporate America.

And I am so pleased and honored to be speaking today with McKinsey's Joanna Si. She is an engagement manager and leader of the firm's legal and professional services. The research for the report was conducted in conjunction with And as you will learn today, the report provides insight into women's experiences in the workplace, as well as representation of women, as it relates to diversity, equity, and inclusion.

The 2021 report includes data collected from 423 participating organizations who employ 12 million people. More than 65,000 employees were surveyed, including interviews with women of diverse identities, women of color, LGBTQ+ women, and women with disabilities.

The first topic I want to talk to Joanna about is burnout. The McKinsey report raises basically a red flag on burnout and its disproportionate impact on women, as well as the impact of always being on with blurred boundaries between work and home. Joanna, what tips do you have for women managers and for companies from an organizational perspective to try to combat this burnout?

Joanna Si: Thank you, Carrie, and very pleased to be joining you here today. What I will say is managers play a really important role in promoting flexibility. And I'll note that the things I say today apply to all managers – women or otherwise. And I think it's all the more important in an environment like law firms, where performance is so often tied to the number of hours billed in work.

And so things that managers can do include things like role modeling work‑life boundaries, explicitly telling colleagues, setting expectations with clients, when there isn't always a need to respond to non-urgent requests outside of traditional work hours, normalizing conversations on working team norms, and promoting space for personal goals.

Managers should be checking in on a colleague's wellbeing, providing emotional support. And this one is so applicable to firms, but helping ensure workloads are manageable. If you're a mid- or senior-level associate, you're much more likely than a junior associate to know how long something should take and where to focus detailed review and when not. And we've found that when managers help colleagues manage workloads, employees are 32% less likely to burn out.

Carrie H. Cohen: Wow, that's an amazing statistic. And I think it's such great advice to managers, and I lead very large legal teams on complex high-stakes investigations, and everything seems urgent. But to be communicating expectations and to be talking about how long things may take, should take, and just having that open dialogue is just so important to avoiding burnout.

Joanna Si: Absolutely. And then you would also ask what do companies and firms do on an organizational perspective? And there, a couple of things to share. I mean, we are seeing some firms and companies also offer programs like increasing mental health support, mental health programs, reimbursements for therapy, having mental health days off.

And then we're also seeing them train managers to treat wellbeing as an actual skill in the manager toolkit. And including that manager's capabilities in this area is part of that manager's performance assessment.

Carrie H. Cohen: I think that's also very, very wise advice. And I will say I also wear another hat at my firm, which is the co-chair of our Women's Strategy committee.

And one thing we struggle with and talk a lot about within the firm is that, you know, in addition to women having a disproportionate amount of the household and childcare and elder care responsibilities, the firm also asks a lot of our women and our diverse attorneys in terms of our D&I initiatives.

What can companies do to actually recognize that the D&I work of a company or a law firm does fall disproportionately on women, people of color, some of whom are disproportionately at home taking on more than their fair share of responsibility?

Joanna Si: Yeah, Carrie, indeed. I mean, we know that women take on a disproportionate share of the labor at home. And then we see that women are taking on the lion's share of the wellbeing and D&I work in the workplace too, as you've mentioned. And we actually call this the “triple shift,” and it's contributing to these increasing rates of burnout. And I mean, our survey doesn't say why. And personally, I know that I participate in diversity and inclusion efforts. You might do the same as well because you find yourself as an only, and in my case, the double only, and we are motivated to change and try and make a difference for ourselves and for others like us.

And on that I'll note that burnout is really bad. It's not only from the perspective of caring for our colleagues, but it hurts companies, right, in terms of their productivity, talent retention. And we find that employees who are burnt out are 1.6 times more likely to consider leaving their companies, switching to jobs or companies with better work-life balance. And so, to your question on, you know, what do companies do and how do I actually recognize this and authentic recognition?

We do see that while the majority of companies say wellbeing work, D&I work, is important, only 25% of these companies are formally recognizing the work. And what we see top-performing companies do – these are the ones that actually see improvement in representation across their pipeline year after year—we see them build this into their performance reviews and formal job descriptions, and they treat D&I like any other business priority.

Some of them are saying, well, let's connect this to additional compensation rewards. So some companies provide additional compensations to leaders who lead employer resource groups, such as the one you lead, above and beyond their annual compensation. And in some law firms, partner contribution in D&I work is recognized in their annual reviews and then also leads to special bonuses.

Carrie H. Cohen: Yes, I think both recognizing in the reviews and also tying it perhaps to compensation is key. I will say, in the law firm context, one of the things the women's strategy group here really pushed for, and I'm really happy that we got it through, was, in the law firm world, billable hour credit for D&I work, especially for the associates—really, really important.

And so we at MoFo enacted that last year. So I'm very happy about that because I think it's extremely important for all the reasons you identify and that are identified in the Report. Another thing, as you were talking it reminded me of was—we talk a lot and the Report talks a lot about allyship. And what is real allyship? How do you help people become effective allies? How do you have an allyship program that actually really helps women and people of color? And I know there's a lot of data in the Report about it. So I am curious for you to talk about that for a bit.

Joanna Si: Yeah, and I love that about the billable hour credit. So on allyship, let me start with some good news.

I think it also highlights some of the advice here on what makes for an effective ally. The good news on allyship is that, based on our survey this year, over three in four white employees self-identify as allies to women of color. And that is a 22% increase from just last year. And it tells us that the intention to be allies is there.

But then, at the same time, what we see is not as many take consistent allyship actions, things like mentoring and sponsoring women of color and the number taking allyship actions compared to last year didn't actually substantially increase. And so, I think that raising awareness on what makes for an effective ally helps close this gap.

And so for all those out there who are excited to be allies, I'll reiterate what our survey showed again, that the top-ranked allyship action, as ranked by women of color, is to advocate for new opportunities for them. And other actions to prioritize, to be an effective ally, include actively confronting discrimination against them and publicly acknowledging their ideas.

Carrie H. Cohen: So those are all three, actually very concrete recommendations. I feel like I should put them in neon up on the walls of the conference rooms. So thank you. And I know the Report talks in greater detail about each one of those, but I don't know that they're easy to do, but they're very doable. Right? And so I do think that will close the gap for all the people that want to be and self-identify as an ally. How do you do that well?

The Report also found that companies who continuously invest in D&I initiatives actually perform better and have higher retention rates. What have you found about some of the top-performing companies? What are they doing that is making real progress?

Joanna Si: So the first big step here is actually tracking the information or data.

So look at promotion rates by gender, by race and ethnicity, to better understand the problem. And then it's digging in to better understand and address the root causes of the problem. So, for example, are we using fair, unbiased criteria? Are candidates and colleagues being assessed, highlighting the actual accomplishments, skills, and capabilities that are going to be required and/or relevant to the role of the next promotion?

And the next is what accountability measures are in place? And so, are senior leaders accountable for the progress against this metric? And then, as I mentioned just earlier, the top-performing companies build that into their performance reviews and formal jobs descriptions, and they do treat D&I as a business priority.

Carrie H. Cohen: Well, the way you even just described how the companies do it, right. Getting the data, doing a root cause analysis—I mean, that is what companies do when they're trying to figure out what the problem is, if there's a problem, how deep it is, and what the cause is of it and how to solve it, right? That's how companies approach business problems. That's sometimes, you know, in my world, how we deal with remediation when there's been compliance issues. So treating D&I the same way you treat your most complex business problem, which you've solved and these companies are wildly successful at, is really on point.

And if we could just talk in the last couple of minutes that we have—and maybe this is slightly selfish of me—but what can senior leaders in companies, law firms, organizations do and what more should we be doing? What did the Report find that we should be doing to ensure we're actually making our workplaces more inclusive?

Joanna Si: So let me share a little bit more on data in terms of surveys, reports, other things that we've done. That the state of inclusion in most companies is actually lacking.

And half of the respondents in a global survey, separate from this one, said they didn't feel very included at work. And it boils down to a massive problem with trust and one that's going to affect performance. So, I mean, it's a great question because senior leaders do play a really important role here. And we found that there were four things that senior leaders can focus on, that we see are linked with inclusive cultures across demographics in geographies.

The first is just prioritizing diversity and inclusive leadership. The second is a meritocracy and initiatives to increase fairness. The third is sponsorship. And again, the number one allyship action is advocating for new opportunities. And then the fourth is actually providing access to senior leaders such as yourself.

And here, I do want to share a story here. I was talking to the heads of legal at one of the largest investment banks. And she brought up an analogy from the medical field that I actually liked. She said, “You know, everyone understands when their doctor brings in a medical student in training to observe.” And she said, “Well, why can't we do that more at law firms and include more of our junior colleagues in business development discussions or major client meetings as critical coaching moments?”

And she assured me she herself would welcome it. Of course, without passing it onto the client as a billable hour.

Carrie H. Cohen: And it's a great point because I do think as senior leaders, we have the ability and certainly in the law firm context, we need to train and bring up and sponsor and mentor all of our junior attorneys, particularly women and attorneys of color.

And I have not found a client that is upset when I have extra people on the phone. And perhaps remote has been good for this because you can have many more people on a Zoom or on a phone call. And then I have the ability to write off their time so it's not that the client actually has to pay for it.

It's a wonderful way to get people included, invested, and also trained at the same time. So, Joanna, this has been so insightful. I feel like I've learned more in this 15 minutes than I've learned in a lot of other much longer meetings and podcasts and panels. So I really want to thank you for joining our Women in the Workplace podcast.

And thanks again to everyone for listening.

Joanna Si: Thank you, Carrie. It's been a pleasure.

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