Lean In & McKinsey's 'Women in the Workplace' report reveals a broken rung as more women get stuck at entry level and fewer women become managers than their male counterparts
February 05, 2016
You’ve probably heard of the “glass ceiling”—the invisible barrier that prevents women from reaching senior leadership positions. But in reality, the biggest obstacle women face is the first step up to manager—or the “broken rung.” To get to gender parity, companies must fix the broken rung.
Also, when employees feel they have equal opportunity to advance and think the system is fair, they are happier with their career and plan to stay at their company longer. Employees are far more likely to see things as fair when companies have practices in place to support inclusive and unbiased hiring and promotions.
In addition, 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.
These are all key findings from the Lean In and McKinsey Women in the Workplace 2019 report that reinforces that a huge gap exists in the workplace as more women get stuck at entry level than their male counterparts, and subsequently fewer women then move through to become managers.
The report is an annual study on the state of women in corporate America. The study collected information from 329 participating organizations employing 13 million people and surveyed more than 68,500 employees to better understand their day-to-day work experiences. Researchers were also able to look back at five years of data to identify some powerful trends.
Here’s a snapshot of the key findings
The glass ceiling is not the biggest obstacle women face - it’s the “broken rung.”
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—the “broken rung.” For every 100 men hired and promoted to manager, only 72 women are hired and promoted. 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. If companies fix the broken rung, we’ll add one million more women to management in corporate America over the next five years—setting off a chain reaction that will eventually lead to parity across the entire pipeline.
Together, opportunity and fairness are the biggest predictors of employee satisfaction.
Employees universally value opportunity and fairness. Across demographic groups, 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. Manager support, sponsorship, and impartial hiring and promotion practices are key elements in creating a workplace that delivers opportunity and fairness to everyone. And given employees universally care about fairness, companies may also benefit from reframing
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 and receive far less support than other groups of women. Women with disabilities also face far more everyday discrimination than women without disabilities: they are significantly more likely to have their judgment questioned, be interrupted, have their ideas co-opted, and hear demeaning remarks directed at them or people like them.
Read the full report and share these findings with your network using our social toolkit with suggested social language and assets.
Insightful case studies within the report
Check out the tangible and useful case studies in the report, like the one about MetLife on page 18.
It discusses how MetLife launched a 14-month career development program for high-potential women called Developing Women’s Career Experience. The program not only trains women in key leadership skills like business acumen and strategy, but also increases the sense of urgency to promote women. This effort has paid off, with many participants taking on expanded roles and responsibilities within six months of completing the program.
In addition, through its Women’s Business Networks, MetLife also runs Lean In Circles - a program that brings small groups of employees together for monthly peer support and mentorship.
Increasing diversity in hiring and promotions at MetLife
MetLife has also focused on increasing diversity in hiring and promotions. The company actively ensures a wide range of candidates and makes sure that managers consider diversity when they make succession plans. The report also outlines how MetLife uses external recruiters to identify diverse talent, ensures that job requirements are gender-neutral, and trains recruiters on issues in the selection process that could impede diverse hiring.
In addition, to foster diverse talent in the company’s own ranks, MetLife has trained leaders to be mindful of potential bias in the review and career development process.
As a result of all these implementations, MetLife has strengthened the representation of women in its workforce - and more than half of its managers and entry-level workers are now women.
What your organization can do
The report includes data-driven recommendations for companies, as well as insights into the practices that have the biggest impact on employee happiness and retention. Additionally, as you know, Lean In offers two programs that can help.
50 Ways to Fight Bias helps companies combat bias in hiring and promotions and empower employees to challenge bias when they see it. At the core of the program is a card-based activity that highlights 50 specific examples of gender bias in the workplace and offers research-backed recommendations for what to do. 95% of employees who’ve participated in the program say they are more committed to taking action.
Lean In Circles are helping companies develop women to promote into management roles. Lean In Circles bring women together in small groups to develop skills and provide peer-to-peer mentorship. 86% of members credit their Circle with a positive change in their lives and say they’re more likely to think that their company is doing what it takes to improve gender diversity.
How Lean In can support you
Lean In has an upcoming webinar to learn more about the findings from this year’s report you can register to join.