The “broken rung” is the biggest obstacle women face
To get to gender parity, companies need to focus their efforts at the first step up to manager.
GENDER REPRESENTATION IN THE CORPORATE PIPELINE
Over the past five years, the number of women in senior leadership has grown. Still, women continue to be underrepresented at every level.
Key findings from five years of data
The biggest obstacle women face
Conventional wisdom says that women hit a “glass ceiling” as they advance that prevents them from reaching senior leadership positions. In reality, the biggest obstacle that women face is the first step up to manager, or the “broken rung.” This broken rung results in more women getting stuck at the entry level and fewer women becoming managers. As a result, there are significantly fewer women to advance to higher levels. To get to gender parity across the entire pipeline, companies must fix the broken rung.LEARN HOW COMPANIES CAN FIX THE BROKEN RUNG
The case for fixing the broken rung is powerful: If women are promoted and hired to first-level manager at the same rates as men, we will add one million more women to management in corporate America over the next five years. And we will set off a chain reaction that will eventually lead to parity across the entire pipeline.
Here’s what companies can do to fix the broken rung:
- Set a goal for getting more women into first-level management
- Require diverse slates for hiring and promotions
- Put evaluators through unconscious bias training
- Establish clear evaluation criteria
- Put more women in line for the step up to manager
Learn more in the full report.
- Women are less likely to be hired and promoted to manager: For every 100 men promoted and hired to manager, only 72 women are promoted and hired.
- Men hold 62% of manager-level positions, while women hold just 38%. The number of women decreases at every subsequent level.
- One third of companies set gender representation targets for first-level manager roles, compared to 41% for senior levels of management.
- We can add 1 million more women to management in corporate America over the next five years if women are hired and promoted to manager at the same rates as men.
Fairness and opportunity
When employees feel they have equal opportunity to advance and think the system is fair, they are happier with their career, plan to stay at their company longer, and are more likely to recommend it as a great place to work. We looked at a number of factors that prior research has shown influence employee satisfaction and retention—including leadership accountability and manager support—and together opportunity and fairness stand out by far as the strongest predictors.LEARN HOW TO FOSTER FAIRNESS AND OPPORTUNITY IN THE WORKPLACE
These practices are key elements in creating a workplace that delivers opportunity and fairness to everyone:
- Manager support: Managers are providing valuable career support—but they need to do it more often. About a third of employees say managers advocate for new opportunities for them a great deal, and less than a quarter of employees say managers regularly help them manage their career.
- Sponsorship: Sponsorship can open doors—and employees need more of it. Fewer than half of the employees at the manager level or higher serve as sponsors, and only one in three employees says they have a sponsor—and this is equally true for women and men.
- Inclusive and unbiased hiring and promotions: To foster diversity and minimize bias in decision-making, companies should set diversity targets, require diverse slates for hiring and promotions, put clear and consistent evaluation criteria before review processes begin, and require unconscious bias training for employees involved in hiring and performance reviews.
Learn more in the full report.
- Together, opportunity and fairness are the strongest predictors of employee satisfaction. Across demographic groups, employees universally value opportunity and fairness.
- Only 6 of the 3231 companies have a full range of best practices in place to support inclusive and unbiased hiring and promotions.
- 1 in 4 women think their gender has played a role in missing out on a raise, promotion or chance to get ahead.
- Everyone benefits from opportunity and fairness. Diversity efforts are about ensuring employees of all genders, races, and backgrounds have access to the same opportunities.
Women’s experiences are not universal
Women’s experiences are often shaped by other aspects of their identity. Women of color, lesbian and bisexual women, and women with disabilities are having distinct—and by and large worse—experiences than women overall. Most notably, Black women and women with disabilities face more barriers to advancement, get less support from managers, and receive less sponsorship than other groups of women.LEARN HOW TO IMPROVE OUTCOMES FOR ALL WOMEN
It’s important for companies to understand that not all women are having the same experience. Too often companies take a one-size-fits-all approach to gender diversity efforts, rather than addressing the complex and unique challenges that different groups of women face. Companies should look for opportunities to correct for the compounding discrimination experienced by women of color, LGBTQ women, and women with disabilities. Here are some best practices:
- Unconscious bias training should cover many types of bias so participants can gain a broad understanding of the issue and how it affects different groups of people.
- Double down on diversity in hiring by having strategies in place for hiring underrepresented groups and requiring diverse candidate slates.
- Track key metrics like representation, hiring, and promotions by both gender and other aspects of identity.
- Prioritize racial diversity and gender diversity equally. When companies treat them as different issues, their policies and programs can fall short.
Learn more in the full report.
- Black women and women with disabilities face more barriers to advancement and get less support than other groups of women.
- Women with disabilities face far more everyday discrimination like having their judgment questioned, being interrupted, or having their ideas co-opted.
- Lesbian women, bisexual women, and women with disabilities are far more likely than other women to hear demeaning remarks about themselves or others like them.
- Commitment to racial diversity is similar to commitment to gender diversity: 77% of companies, 59% of managers, and 56% of employees say it is a high priority.
Challenging bias in the workplace
Bias impacts women’s day-to-day work experiences and ability to advance. Women are far more likely to experience everyday discrimination in the workplace. And bias can hurt their chances of getting hired or promoted—particularly at the first step up to manager, where all candidates have short track records. 50 Ways to Fight Bias is a program to empower managers and employees to identify and challenge bias. This card-based activity highlights 50 specific examples of gender bias in the workplace and offers research-backed recommendations for what to do.LEARN MORE ABOUT 50 WAYS TO FIGHT BIAS
- 33% of women and 11% of men say they have seen or heard biased behavior toward women.
- 73% of women report experiencing microaggressions—or everyday discrimination—which is rooted in bias.
- Only about a third of employees who’ve seen bias over the past year spoke up personally to challenge it—and less than a quarter say someone else did.
- Only 32% of women and 50% of men believe disrespectful behavior toward women is often quickly addressed by their company.
This year, we collected information from 329 organizations employing 13 million people and surveyed more than 68,500 employees to better understand their day-to-day work experiences.
Women in the Workplace is the largest study of the state of women in corporate America.
Read our previous reports to track progress on gender diversity and discover opportunities for improvement.Go to reports
Women In The Workplace 2019
The “broken rung” is the biggest obstacle women faceRead the 2019 report
To accelerate progress, companies need to treat gender diversity like the business priority it is.
That starts with taking concrete actions to drive diversity and inclusion.
Challenge gender bias in the workplace
50 Ways to Fight Bias helps companies combat bias in hiring and promotions and empowers employees to challenge bias when they see it. The card-based activity highlights 50 specific examples of gender bias in the workplace and offers research-backed recommendations for what to do.
Lead a Circle at your company
Bringing women together in the workplace can be a powerful force for change. Join or create a Circle with your co-workers to share ideas, seek advice, and learn new skills—from negotiating your salary to discovering your strengths.
- A total of 323 companies completed the HR portion of this year’s survey