Before Women Climb the Corporate Ladder, We Need to Fix the Broken Rung.


by Jessica Strull

On September 10, 2020, Citigroup made an announcement that shattered the glass ceiling in a big way. They announced that Jane Fraser was going to be appointed CEO in February 2021. This marks the first time a major US Bank has appointed a female CEO.

While this is something to celebrate, a woman being announced as a CEO in a large company shouldn’t be headline news. But, in 2020, it still is, so we need to figure out why and how to change it.


The Challenge 

According to the study, although the number of women in senior leadership has grown since 2015, we are far from the majority. The number of women in senior leadership roles has increased from 17 to 21 percent. This equals only 1 in 5 c-suite executives being a woman. Even more dismal: only 1 in 25 c-suite executives are women of color.


The Broken Rung 

The flaw in the corporate ladder, or the “broken-rung” as it is known, occurs at the first step up from employee to manager. According to Sheryl Sandberg’s and McKinsey & Company’s 2019 Women in the Workplace Study, for every 100 men promoted and hired to first-level manager roles, only 72 women are promoted and hired to first-level manager roles. But, if women are promoted and hired to the first-level management roles at a rate equal to men, there will be more female candidates for the senior and c-suite level roles later on in the hiring process.

Interestingly, employees don’t even see this broken-rung as a prominent problem. Only 19% of HR leaders, 7% of male employees, and 19% of female employees answered that the number one problem women face in getting promoted to management was due to this professional phenomenon. In fact, a shocking 45% of HR leaders and 21% of male employees thought it was because “There are too few qualified women in the pipeline.”


Change is Needed

Obviously, there needs to be a change in the corporate management mindset. Some positive shifts HR and hiring managers could make include:

  • Setting diversity targets
  • Requiring diverse groups of candidates for hiring and promotions
  • Establishing clear and consistent evaluation criteria before review processes begin
  • Requiring unconscious bias training for employees involved in hiring and performance reviews

Unfortunately, only 6 of the 323 companies studied reported doing this kind of work.

While corporations need to change their hiring and promotion practices, there also needs to be an employee mindset shift. At companies where 1 in 10 senior managers are female, 44% of men and 22% of women feel that women were well represented in management. Apparently, 10% of management being female is acceptable to employees. It is not and we need to do better.


The Opportunity 

If companies can make these changes and hire and promote women to first-level management, at the same rate as men, then we will have over one million women in management in corporate America over the next five years. It was the late Ruth Bader Ginsburg, peace be upon her, that said “It shouldn’t be that women are the exception.” Let’s give more women a seat at the table.

What do you think can be done to help equalize the hiring of women as first-level managers and to fix this broken-rung? Please comment below.




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