Women in the Workplace – The Broken Rung

McKinsey recently published their ninth Women in the Workplace survey results and once again women are still lagging behind in corporate America. In particular, women of color face the hardest uphill battle. This year’s survey debunked some myths and added a new perspective that got my attention. While there has been progress for women at the senior leadership level, McKinsey found that for the ninth consecutive year, women face their biggest hurdle at the first critical step up to manager. They call this the “Broken Rung”.

Clearly if we don’t address the pipeline, which begins at the broken rung, the gains at senior leadership are at risk in the future. McKinsey’s recommendations focus on what corporations can do systemically, which is understandably the right focus and needs to be addressed. As I reflected on issue, I focused on what I can do as a coach and how I can help my clients address that which is within their control. I hope every corporation in America implements the McKinsey recommendations, but in the meantime let’s talk about what we can do as individuals.

“All women lose ground at the first step up to manager but the Broken Rung holds back Black women and Latinas the most.”

There are two aspects to getting that first promotion to manager: competence and bias. As individuals in leadership roles we can address the bias issue by training our direct reports in unconscious bias and putting in place “bias monitors”. A bias monitor is a person or process that reviews who is being considered for promotion. They objectively monitor for true competence without bias. When I was at Shell Oil Company in finance earlier in my career we had several good processes that we utilized for monitoring unconscious bias in job selection and promotion. More than once we found that bias would creep in subconsciously without anyone noticing until we did the check and caught ourselves in the process. In my experience, no one was intentionally leaving out a category of people, they just didn’t have the awareness until we brought attention to it. A culture and process of monitoring is necessary.

Maybe you’re not in a position to promote that first level manager but you’re the one trying to get there. That’s where we need to funnel that ambition into our career development, just as much as we need to focus on getting the job done well. Here are a few things you can do for your career development plan.

  1. Identify the skills needed for the next level. Ask others at your targeted level what challenges they faced when they got promoted and what skills they have most relied upon. Research using online tools such as www.onetonline.org or your internal job promotion criteria.
  2. Assess your skill gaps. Seek honest and detailed feedback from people who know your work well. We need more than “good job” comments to know what specific skills need developing. Your manager may or may not be capable of giving you useful feedback so seek out more than one source. Friends, mentors, colleagues, assessments all can be useful sources. Courageously seek out feedback.
  3. Develop your plan to get those skills. I’ve been asked by clients whether they should get an MBA, or a certification, or additional training. IF it will prepare you for a specific skill and IF that training/ degree/ certification will be recognized and valued, then consider it. Also remember that many skills are developed on the job by taking on new roles, bigger scope, working in teams with more people and responsibility. Look for ways that you can learn and demonstrate those skills from your current role.
  4. Learn to advocate for yourself. Doing your job well is not enough. You need to get comfortable letting decision-makers know what you are accomplishing and how you are adding value. There are ways that you can communicate your strengths and accomplishments without feeling like you’re bragging. If you need help with that, let’s talk because it’s an important part of your career development.
  5. Develop your network. Many of us love the flexibility of working remotely. I love not having to make the commute as often. Remote working creates a new challenge: Even though we’re working remotely we need to remain visible and develop a meaningful network inside and outside your company. Make networking and visibility an intentional part of your career development.

We all need the support of others to achieve our goals. If you’d like to consider coaching as a means of support, I’d be happy to talk more about your specific situation. Just schedule a Coaching Discovery Call here.

My hope is that sometime during my lifetime we can read McKinsey’s annual report on Women in the Workplace and parity will have been achieved. Until then, we use our ambitions to keep making progress.

You can read the full article here: Women in the Workplace 2023 report | McKinsey

Photo credit: Peter Baier/Shutterstock

Posted in
Susan Hodge

Susan Hodge

Susan Hodge created Women Leading Together in order to provide one-on-one executive coaching, seminars, workshops, and coaching circles to help career women move forward to create fulfilling professional lives. Visit our website for upcoming programs, articles, and resources to advance your career.


  • Watch this space for upcoming virtual workshops!
  • Stay up to date with upcoming events and resources.

    Subscribe (Sidebar)

    • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.