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CEOs say gender diversity is a priority. That's news to the women who work for them.

A new McKinsey report done in partnership with Sheryl Sandberg's group Lean In sheds light on a number of obstacles women face when trying to advance up the corporate ladder. Much of it is about what you might expect, but a particularly insidious obstacle is arguably a form of self-deception in which companies say that gender diversity is a priority but don't act like it.


This chart shows that nearly three-quarters of companies officially state that their CEO prioritizes gender diversity in his (or her, but really it's almost always his) decision-making. About half of men say they think this is true, but only about a third of women (who would be in a position to know) agree. And of course real priorities filter down to middle managers, who know they need to adopt the CEO's priorities in order to get ahead. And when it comes to their direct supervisors, men and women both overwhelmingly agree that gender diversity isn't a priority.

The result is a dynamic that's incredibly resistant to change. Companies aren't going to do things differently unless CEOs make it a priority, but you can't even get a discussion going about making something a priority when the CEO is invested in saying it already is.