In the 18th month of the pandemic, burnout, accompanied by a surge in coronavirus cases and uncertainty about returning to the office, pushed many employees to their limits. However, new data from Lean In and McKinsey & Company shows that the gap between women and men who feel burned out has nearly doubled – and that this inequality is causing more women to consider shutting down their careers or the workforce to leave completely.

In his annual The Women in the Workplace report, Lean In and McKinsey & Company found that 1 in 3 women considered changing or leaving jobs in the past year, compared to 1 in 4 women surveyed in 2020 who report higher burnout rates this year compared to the previous year, the gap between men and women who feel overwhelmed has almost doubled: 42% of women and 35% of men say they are burned out, compared to 32 % of women and 28% of men last year.

“It’s really worrying,” Rachel Thomas, co-founder and CEO of Leanin.org, told CNBC Make It. “Women continue to do a disproportionate amount of housework and childcare during the pandemic compared to men, but on top of seeing these obvious causes of burnout we want women in the office to do more work on the wellbeing of employees than to drive Diversity, Justice and Inclusion (DEI) efforts, which means their workloads keep getting bigger and bigger. ”

Women do more underrecognized and underpaid work than men

Between 2019 and 2020, the percentage of women in C-suite positions increased slightly, and more women of color were promoted to management positions. Despite these advances, women are still frustrated by the “broken rung” that is a woman’s first promotion to executive. For every 100 men promoted to manager in 2020, according to the latest data from Lean In and McKinsey & Company, 89 white women and 85 women of color were promoted, compared to 89 white women and 79 women of color in 2019.

While companies have signaled their commitment to DEI efforts amid heightened calls for racial justice across the country, women leaders have adopted DEI efforts more often than their male counterparts – but they do not receive formal recognition for the work. The Women in Work report found that women leaders at the same level were more likely than men to advocate DEI efforts outside of their normal job responsibilities; 1 in 5 female executives spends a lot of time on DEI work that is not central to their job compared to less than 1 in 10 male executives.

The report notes that these efforts are in danger of becoming “the new office work”: while companies say they support DEI initiatives, most do not recognize this work in performance reviews and are usually not paid for. “It’s business critical to the organization, but if it’s not rewarded and unrecognized, what happens?” says Thomas. “Not only do women not get recognition and it hinders their advancement in the workplace, but if you signal that this work is not important, it is less likely to get done.”

This pattern has far-reaching implications for businesses beyond promoting burnout among working women, says Jess Huang, partner at McKinsey & Company and a co-author on the report, to CNBC Make It. “Businesses are really at risk of losing the lead that helped them weather the storm of the past few years, “she says. “Many companies performed well during the pandemic, and that’s thanks to the women who stepped up to make sure their colleagues are working effectively and investing in DEI efforts.”

Between the ongoing care crisis women face and the overwhelming demands of the workplace, many working women are reaching a breaking point, adds Huang. “They do more at home, they do more at work, and they’re really burned out,” she says. “If companies don’t address the unrecognized work women are doing that has a very real, positive impact on their performance and the wider burnout problem, they’ll lose the leaders who make a huge difference to them.” critical moment. ”

Women of color still experience racism in the workplace

Despite a stronger focus on DEI issues, the Women in the Workplace report found that women of color are still experiencing the same microaggressions about as often as they did before the pandemic. 18% of black women, 13% of Latinas, and 11% of Asian women say they are surprised by their language or other skills, compared to just 5% of white women at work.

There is also a discrepancy between white employees who associate themselves with women of color in their job and take action: 77% of white employees say they are allies of women of color, but only 39% say they face discrimination, when they see it, and 21% regularly advocate new opportunities for women of color, the report said.

“We have had a long overdue racist reckoning in this country, and in the process we have seen organizations double their commitment to DEI issues,” says Thomas. “But despite this increased commitment to racial justice, the experiences of women of color have [at work] haven’t improved … white workers are more likely than two years ago to say they are allies in this struggle, but when you look at their actions, few people regularly advocate better opportunities for women of color. ”

Thomas adds that companies need to address “hard, sustainable work changing their cultures” and invest more in employee training to combat prejudice and support colleagues from underrepresented groups to improve equity in the workplace. “It’s important that employees learn to move through the workplace with more empathy and determination,” she says.

To better support their female employees, business leaders should reflect on their culture and systems to remove the “broken rung” and create an environment in which all employees can thrive in their place. This includes not just training employees, but “redesigning training and development programs to reduce bias and rethinking how positive leadership can be rewarded”.

Before companies address these deeper, systemic issues, however, there is a more immediate crisis among working women that leaders need to recognize, Thomas adds. “We have to take bolder steps to combat burnout in women,” she says. “We have made a lot of great strides, but companies need to recognize that burnout is on the rise and that women are barely able to hold out.”

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