Women in the Workplace: How Fixing the “Broken Rung” Fosters Change
While many organizations have made progress towards diversifying their leadership make-up, it’s clear that women still face significant hurdles. Women are advancing to top level management, acquiring positions as high as Level 1-C-suite executives and presidents, and yet, women —especially women of color and stigmatized groups— remain underrepresented at every level in the workplace. How do we go about addressing this issue and its ripple effects throughout organizations?
We often hear of the glass ceiling—the invisible barrier affecting advancement into executive ranks of an organization— as the sole blockade faced by women (and minorities). Although true, the glass ceiling implies that leadership disparity is only seen at the upper rungs of management. However, research from McKinsey & Company and LeanIn reveals otherwise. They say that gender disparity in leadership begins at the very beginning, revealing the existence of the “Broken Rung”. As a result, many women are not given the opportunity to take that first managerial step into leadership. Consequently, an unequal representation among men and women can be seen as more than 50% of men attain first level leadership positions as compared to the lesser 39% of women. Additionally, women of minorities or stigmatized groups are even less likely to be promoted into leadership positions.
Because the broken rung serves as the root of the problem, advancement towards a more diverse and inclusive culture cannot be fully attained until the broken rung is addressed and repaired. Once repaired, companies can then be better equipped in sustaining a more gender-diverse workplace, which will in turn have a domino effect on the main driver of change— leadership.
Why does the Broken Rung persist?
For all the effort organizations have been putting in to recruit women and people of minorities into C-Suite and executive leadership positions, why are organizations still struggling to get them into these entry-level managerial positions? The McKinsey report places the most emphasis on the existence of unconscious bias—social stereotypes people unknowingly have— and its role in creating the Broken Rung. Talent management and development decisions are made by people, and every individual manager or executive has their own set of unconscious biases that might color their decision making regarding who to develop or promote.
Often, women are not given the support, sponsorship, and/or hiring and promotion opportunities from their managers in comparison to men. Likewise, women of minorities or stigmatized groups receive less support and see less opportunities to advance. Here are some steps any organization can take to combat the existence of the Broken Rung and remove any potential for bias in their process:
1. Acknowledge the Potential
Understanding the potential for unconscious biases to persist in your talent management and development processes enables your organization to take actionable steps moving forward.
2. Rewrite your Standards
Set bold and challenging, yet achievable, goals for hiring and promotion to require diversity among candidates at all levels, not just senior levels
3. Put a Halt to Unconscious Bias
We can decrease unfair, gendered assumptions about employee potential by requiring our evaluators at all levels to go through unconscious bias training
4. Establish Clear and Consistent Evaluation Criteria
Establish easy to use, objective, and measurable evaluation criteria such as leadership assessment and development solutions that are based on candidate performance
5. Let Women Compete
Put more women in the candidate pool for the step up to manager. It is important that women gain the experiences needed to be prepared for management roles, as well as have the opportunities to build their professional profile through leadership training, sponsorship, and high-profile assignments
How Diversity and Inclusion leads to better leadership initiatives
Having more women as leaders enhances an organization’s diversity makeup and gives a greater voice for women in the hiring cycle. With a more diversified mix of leadership among all levels, differing leadership styles and experience can greatly enhance and grow an organization’s leadership development, assessment, and succession planning techniques. In turn, as more women enter into leadership roles, a work-place culture of diversity and inclusion can be cultivated as women champion for women.
By fixing the broken rung first, we can then address and sustain all other areas that play a role in fostering a diverse and inclusive work-place environment. By getting rid of the first hurdle to leadership for women, we can increase our awareness and take action towards eliminating gender disparity among all levels of management.
To dive deeper into the topic of unconscious bias and the broken rung, check out our research study Repairing the Broken Rung.‹ Previous PostNext Post ›