Women in the Workplace 2019 – Fix the “Broken Rung”

McKinsey & Co. and LeanIn.Org recently published the 5th annual Women in the Workplace report which is the largest study of the state of women in Corporate America aiming to help companies foster diversity. Since inception, almost 600 companies and over a quarter of a million people have participated in the study. 

In the last 5 years, Women in the Workplace has seen increased women in senior leadership roles, the C-Suite in particular growing from 17% to 21%. However, women are still significantly underrepresented at every level, and this rings true even more so for women of color. While the numbers are trending in a positive direction, our rate of progress is still decades or more away from gender parity.

This year’s study highlights that to reach equality, companies must fix the “broken rung” and invest in creating a strong culture. 

The biggest obstacle for women in reaching senior leadership is the “broken rung,” as shown below. This refers to the first step into management which has the biggest gap between men and women. For every 100 men promoted and hired to manager, only 72 women are promoted and hired. Addressing this first level is integral to fueling the pipeline for more senior and C-suite roles.

Notably, this gap is not due to women leaving the workforce. Women are staying in the workforce at equal rates to men. Women are also asking for promotions and negotiating salaries at the same rates as men.


To reach gender parity, companies must fix the “broken rung” and focus diversity efforts at all levels. Women in the Workplace shares 5 steps companies can take to address the “broken rung:”

  1. Set a goal for getting more women into first-level management
  2. Require diverse slates for hiring and promotions
  3. Put evaluators through unconscious bias training
  4. Establish clear evaluation criteria
  5. Put more women in line for the step up to manager


Additionally, the study emphasizes that companies need a strong, supportive culture to reach gender parity–improving just numbers is not enough. This strong culture includes:


  1. Equal opportunity and fairness
  2. Work-life flexibility
  3. A safe, respectful workplace


To touch on equal opportunity and fairness, women are not a one-size-fits-all. Gender is only one facet of a woman’s identity. Women of color, lesbian women, bisexual women, and women with disabilities are having a worse experience at work than white women. Black women and women with disabilities, in particular, are far less likely to feel they have equal opportunity for advancement, access to sponsorship, and feel promotions are fair and objective.

Companies should understand that all women are not having the same experience and work to address the challenges of specific groups. The study states, “Across demographic groups, when employees feel they have equal opportunity for advancement 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.”

Although company-driven initiatives have the potential to drive the most impact, change can also happen at team and individual levels. Complete unconscious bias training and encourage others to do so. Mentor a woman. Sponsor a woman for a promotion or job opportunity.  Intentionally interview female candidates. Share the Women in the Workplace study.

For more details, the full report is available at


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