Equity, Diversity and Inclusion

Women are stopped from climbing the corporate ladder because of this worrying trend

A woman walks on Broad St. past the New York Stock Exchange during the morning commute April 30, 2014. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid (UNITED STATES - Tags: BUSINESS TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY) - GM1EA5100RA02

Why do women still face difficulties in the workplace? Image: REUTERS/Brendan McDermid

Ellen Wulfhorst
Writer, Thomson Reuters Foundation
Our Impact
What's the World Economic Forum doing to accelerate action on Equity, Diversity and Inclusion?
The Big Picture
Explore and monitor how Education, Gender and Work is affecting economies, industries and global issues
A hand holding a looking glass by a lake
Crowdsource Innovation
Get involved with our crowdsourced digital platform to deliver impact at scale
Stay up to date:

Education, Gender and Work

Enthusiasm for bringing more women into corporate boardrooms is dimming, but the biggest obstacle to women moving up in the corporate world is the very first step to manager, according to newly released research.

The so-called "broken rung" - wherein women are less likely to make a successful step up into management - has meant that just 72 women attain their first management job for every 100 men making the same move, a study released on Tuesday found.

Have you read?

The study on women in corporate America conducted by Lean In, a non-profit group that promotes gender equality, and McKinsey & Co. management consultants, blamed that broken rung for men holding almost two-thirds of manager-level positions.

Conventional wisdom has focused on the glass ceiling, where women can rise only so far in the corporate world, said Rachel Thomas, chief executive of Lean In, who contends that the broken rung is much more significant.

"Where women are most disadvantaged is at that critical step up to manager," she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation in a telephone interview.

"Some senior women are putting cracks in that glass ceiling, but we don't have enough women coming up behind them."

Other research shows fewer company directors are concerned with gender diversity.

The importance of diversity fell to its lowest point in five years after a steady climb since 2015, said a survey released last week by business consultants PwC of more than 700 directors on U.S. company boards, 80 percent of whom were men.

Nearly two-thirds said investors actually focus too much on board gender diversity, up from about one-third a year ago.

"Board diversity, and especially gender diversity, have been a hot topic for investors for years and many boards have made strides," said Paula Loop, leader of PwC's governance insights center.

"But they are ready to change the subject," she noted.

The number of women on publicly traded companies' boards has increased in five years to about one in four from one in five, PwC said.

But fixing the broken rung so that equal numbers of men and women take the first step into management would add one million women in five years to U.S. corporate jobs, said Alexis Krivkovich, a senior managing partner at McKinsey.

"If companies swing their attention to fixing the broken rung, the impact is massive," Krivkovich said.

The research collected information from 329 organizations employing 13 million people.

It suggested companies set targets for moving women into first-level management, do more active recruiting and employ unconscious bias training for staff making hiring and promotion decisions.

Don't miss any update on this topic

Create a free account and access your personalized content collection with our latest publications and analyses.

Sign up for free

License and Republishing

World Economic Forum articles may be republished in accordance with the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International Public License, and in accordance with our Terms of Use.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author alone and not the World Economic Forum.

Related topics:
Equity, Diversity and InclusionEconomic Growth
World Economic Forum logo
Global Agenda

The Agenda Weekly

A weekly update of the most important issues driving the global agenda

Subscribe today

You can unsubscribe at any time using the link in our emails. For more details, review our privacy policy.

This is how AI can empower women and achieve gender equality, according to the founder of Girls Who Code and Moms First

Kate Whiting

May 14, 2024


About Us



Partners & Members

  • Join Us

Language Editions

Privacy Policy & Terms of Service

© 2024 World Economic Forum