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Fixing the "Broken Rung" on the Corporate Ladder

Updated: Apr 16, 2020

A new report identifies "the first rung" of the corporate ladder as the area women lose the most ground during their leadership journey. This Annual Women in the Workplace report from LeanIn.Org and McKinsey & Company, highlights the biggest obstacles facing women is early in their career path.

The study found as women begin to rise to corporate leadership, they continue to be underrepresented at every level. Missing that initial promotion to manager means that despite experiencing improvement in hiring and promotion rates, women can never catch up. 

This study is based on data from 329 companies employing over 13 million people. It found that if companies fixed this broken rung dilemma, corporate America could add one million more women to management over the next 5 years.


About 1 in 5 women say they are often an "only" in their company and this designation is twice as likely for senior-level women and women in technical roles. Women who are “onlys” are more likely to experience microaggressions than men and women who have other women on their teams. Moreover, they are nearly twice as likely to have been sexually harassed in their career.

Sexual harassment remains far too common. Two in five women surveyed have experienced some form of sexual harassment over the course of their career. Women in technical roles, and women in leadership roles, lesbian women, bisexual women, are more likely to be sexually harassed.

There are steps companies can take to improve hiring and promotions. Interviews and survey results highlight critical practices: setting diversity targets; assembling a diverse slate of qualified candidates for vacancies; requiring unconscious bias training for evaluators; and establishing clear and specific criteria before review processes begin. 

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. While there is room for improvement, sponsorship is trending in the right direction—just a year ago, a quarter of employees reported having a sponsor. 

To access the Women in the Workplace 2019 report visit: Companies can download the report and sign up to participate in this ongoing research. 


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