Home Features Women in Leadership Shaky start: How the leadership ladder is failing to support women

Shaky start: How the leadership ladder is failing to support women

Amy Elisa Jackson* says one of the biggest obstacles for women in the workplace is at the first entry to a management role.


When LeanIn.Org and McKinsey & Company released their annual Women in the Workplace 2019 study late last year, aside from insights into pipeline diversity and employee satisfaction, it revealed that one of the biggest barriers women face in the workplace is at the first entry to management.

According to the report, women are less likely to be hired and promoted to the role of manager.

“For every 100 men promoted and hired to manager, only 72 women are promoted and hired,” the report said.

This is what LeanIn calls “the broken rung”.

“Repairing the broken rung is the key to creating significantly more leadership opportunities for women,” said Kevin Sneader, global managing partner of McKinsey & Company.

“Taking this single action can have an outsized impact.”

“Over the next five years, this can add 1 million additional women managers.”

Because of this phenomenon, 62 per cent of manager-level positions are held by men, while women hold just 38 per cent.

Over time, this results in fewer and fewer women advancing to senior levels, and the inaccurate perception of a pipeline problem.

In conversations around diversity, inclusion and belonging, the promotion gap is rarely recognised, let alone tackled.

However, the report authors contend that if women are promoted and hired to first-level manager at the same rates as men, this will add one million more women to management positions over the next five years.

So how can you address the “broken rung” problem as an employee?

Here’s what you can do:

  1. Educate and inform management & HR

Take a proactive step to share the Women in the Workplace study with your team and HR partners.

Make them aware of the issue and ask follow up questions like: “Is this something we’re looking at? Do we evaluate the promotion rate of men versus women? What data do we have around bias in hiring, promotions or gender gaps?”

  1. Invest in mentorship programs

Whether you are new in your career or a seasoned pro, create or join your organisation’s mentorship program to start to assemble the building blocks for becoming a manager or enabling others to become managers.

If your employer offers leadership training, take it.

Join an employee resource group.

Raise your hand for a stretch assignment.

As you’re taking these steps, inform your manager and develop a plan that tracks your efforts and progress.

  1. Learn about other roles and expectations

If you’re looking to get promoted within your organisation, knowing the expectations that come with similar roles is a great way to start building a path towards a promotion.

This helps you to build a case for why you deserve the promotion in the first place, and it will help ensure that you meet the requirements once you’re in that role.

  1. Talk about your interest in career growth

If you don’t talk about wanting to advance your career with your managers, how will they ever know?

Proactivity is the name of the game, so make sure to talk to your managers frequently about your current role, where you see yourself in the organisation, and keep your name top of mind to be noticed.

“If your manager doesn’t know your ultimate goal of rising up the corporate ladder and you do great work at your current job, you may be overlooked,” notes career expert Angela Copeland.

“It’s important to communicate with your manager about your long-term goals, so they can be your advocate.”

  1. Stay engaged with, and constantly evaluate, company culture

Like recent Glassdoor studies, the Women in the Workplace 2019 report shows the importance of organisational culture.

Remaining engaged in your organisation’s culture and paying attention to shifts will allow you to determine whether it is still the right workplace for you.

Employers that focus on their culture want to retain you.

Those that don’t, often do not recognise the talent they have and do not nurture that talent through rewards, promotions, or advancement.

By keeping an eye on culture, you’ll know whether the “broken rung” issue is a permanent fixture of your organisation or a challenge HR is eager to tackle.


Amy Elisa Jackson is Editorial Director at Glassdoor and host of the IN PURSUIT podcast. She tweets at @amyelisajackson. Her website is amyelisajackson.com.

This article first appeared at www.glassdoor.com/blog.