The broken rung overtakes glass ceiling as main obstacle in women’s careers

Megan Stacy Deane

Posted: January 24, 2024

Table of Contents

You’ve heard of the glass ceiling, a term describing the barrier blocking women from promotions to top management and executive positions. The phrase was coined in 1978 and has formed part of many women empowerment discussions since then. However, another challenge obstructing women from advancing through entry-level positions to management is the broken rung.

This term only recently entered discussions around women’s careers. For decades, it was assumed that the glass ceiling was the biggest obstacle women face in the workplace, but recent studies show that the uphill battle starts much earlier in their careers. The broken rung defines the missing step on the corporate ladder where women in entry-level positions are overlooked for managerial roles.

A study by McKinsey & Co. and nonprofit Lean In revealed that women, and women of colour in particular, are least likely to be promoted to management roles. “For every 100 men promoted from entry-level contributor to manager in the survey, only 72 women got promoted,” they reported. 

Due to gender bias in promotion processes, men hold 60% of manager-level positions in a typical company, while women occupy 40%, the study shows. This creates a domino effect that ultimately affects the amount of women in top management and executive positions. The glass ceiling is still a major problem, but we cannot address it before acknowledging how much the broken rung impacts careers. 

This issue is certainly not due to women lacking the desire to be promoted, as the study revealed they were asking for promotions at the same rate that men were. So, how can you make changes to improve the overall experience women have in the workplace and what steps should you take to fix the broken rung? 

Equipping women with future-fit leadership skills

The first step to fixing the broken rung is prioritising upskilling women in your organisation. Simply promoting them is not the solution if these individuals do not possess the right knowledge and skills for the position. Training programs that incorporate practical lessons on developing self-awareness, leadership presence and establishing authentic connections with team members is essential. 

Remove bias from the hiring process to promotion

If your company is disproportionately hiring more men, this leads to a limited pool of women available for managerial promotions. Consequently, updating your evaluation and promotion protocols to remove unconscious gender bias establishes the perfect environment for a more diverse team. It’s a win-win for all because companies with diverse teams are perceived as more desirable places to work. According to LinkedIn, 76% of employees and job seekers said diversity was important when considering job offers.

Set targets for getting more women into management

There is a need for companies to adopt more assertive target-setting measures. In addressing the broken rung, companies should openly declare their objectives for improving the amount of women at the managerial level. This should also include implementing targets specifically for recruitment and promotions, as these processes exert the most direct influence on employee representation.

Fixing the broken rung and implementing policy changes to address diversity issues in your company can seem like a mammoth task, yet it is a necessary undertaking to provide opportunities for previously disadvantaged groups. Achieving gender equity in the workplace is possible, but requires buy-in from all key decision-makers. As highlighted by Lean In, “when employees feel they have equal opportunity for advancement 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.”

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