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Gender Diversity: How the “Broken Rung” Limits Women Leaders

Veleisa Burrell


McKinsey & Company has released its fifth edition of Women in the Workplace in partnership with This year’s findings show an increase in the number of women in leadership roles at the C-suite level as well companies’ commitment to gender diversity and accountability from senior leaders.

This improvement in gender diversity at senior management is positive news, considering that the latest data shows the United States as the 28th best country to be a woman, according to Equal Measures 2030 2019 Sustainable Development Goals Gender Index. When it comes specifically to business, there remains a 20 percent gap between men and women in pay.

Left Behind: Where Women in Leadership Drop Off

Digging into the McKinsey & Company report, you find that “for every 100 men promoted or hired to manager, only 72 women are promoted and hired.” The diversity and inclusion gap means that women are being left behind at a significant point in their career: the transition from entry-level to management. While people are familiar with the term “glass ceiling” (the invisible barrier that keeps women from rising to senior-level positions), the disparity between men and women in reaching management is referred to as the “broken rung.”

Diversity In The Workplace Statistics - Women in Leadership by the Numbers

According to Catalyst, women account for 29 percent of senior management and 87 percent of global businesses have at least one woman in a senior management role. Variations occur based on region - in the United States, 31 percent of senior management roles are held by women as compared to 25 percent in Latin America - and industry, with human resources supplying the largest percentage of women in senior roles at 43 percent.

The lack of diversity in senior management is highlighted by the fact there are more men named John than there are women in leadership roles in the United States. Breaking the numbers down even further, white women hold 32.6 percent of the management roles, with Latina (6.2), Black (3.8) and Asian (2.4) filling out the 40 percent.

Fixing the Broken Rung - How To Improve Gender Diversity in Senior Management

Adding to the issue, many human resource professionals are unaware of the disruption in women’s journey to leadership at this transition point. The McKinsey & Company report also found that HR employees were overly optimistic about when their company would reach parity in leadership; more than half believed parity was within 10 years when based on numbers gender diversity in leadership is decades away.

To solve the broken rung and help increase the number of women in leadership, McKinsey & Company recommends five steps:

  1. Set a goal for getting more women into first-level management. Only 30 percent of companies set targets for female representation at first-level manager as opposed to 41 percent for more senior levels. The Women in the Workplace report recommends increasing these targets and putting targets in place for hiring and promotions.
  2. Require diverse slates for hiring and promotion. Similar to setting targets, companies are more likely to require a diverse slate of candidates for more senior-level roles. They can remedy this by implementing the requirement for positions at the entry point of management.
  3. Put evaluators through unconscious bias training. Though unconscious bias can play a large role in hiring and promotion, many companies do not offer it for employees who evaluate performance reviews for those earlier in their careers. Offering the training can help reduce assumptions about where young potential women leaders are planning to go with their careers.
  4. Establish clear evaluation criteria. Establishing clear standards for judging candidates, companies can effectively determine the best candidates for management.
  5. Put more women in line for the step up to manager. Helping women gain both the experience and exposure to position themselves for management is key to elevating the number of women in leadership roles.

Do you want more insights on gender diversity in the workplace? Read the full report: McKinsey & Company/Lean In Women in the Workplace: The State of the Pipeline.


    Gender Equity/Diversity

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