Study Suggests “Broken Rung” Is the Greatest Barrier Facing Women in Corporate America

McKinsey & Company, a management consulting firm, and Lean In, a global nonprofit organization supporting women’s advancement in the workplace, have recently released the ninth edition of their report, Women in the WorkplaceThe study highlights the progress and persisting disparities facing women in corporate America.

Over the past nine years, women have made notable progress in their representation in senior-level corporate positions, but still remain significantly outpaced by their male peers. In 2023, women represented 28 percent of all C-suite level positions, compared to only 17 percent in 2015. Similar progress was found at the senior vice president and vice president levels.

While improvements have been made at all levels of the corporate pipeline, progress remains particularly slow in mid-ranking positions, such as managers and directors. Additionally, women directors were found to be significantly more likely to quit their job than their male peers. As these employees are the next group in line for promotions to senior-ranking positions, the results point towards a severe gender gap in the talent pool for executive roles.

The study found that while women represent 48 percent of all corporate entry-level positions, they are significantly less likely than men to receive promotions to a manager position. Only 87 women for every 100 men were promoted from an entry-level role to a manager role in 2023. This gender gap is not due to a lack of ambition, as the study found women were just as likely as men to ask for a promotion, and less likely than men to leave an entry-level position in 2023.

Notably, the study highlights that women of color face the largest disparities in corporate representation. Women of color represent just 6 percent of C-suite level positions, compared to 15 percent of men of color, and 22 percent of White women. At the entry-level, only 73 women of color per 100 men received a promotion to a management position in 2023. This is a significant decrease from 82 women of color in 2022.

The report authors refer to the lack of entry-level promotions for women as the “broken rung,” as it contributes to a lack of women in every progressing level through the corporate pipeline. To combat this phenomenon, the authors offer multiple recommendations for companies and corporate executives. Their suggestions include tracking employee outcomes and experiences, enhancing development opportunities for people leaders, offering flexible working conditions, fostering an inclusive culture, and investing in resources specifically geared towards women of color.

Filed Under: Gender GapResearch/Study

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