Is the “Broken Rung” the real barrier to women’s progression in the workplace? by Catriona Cookson

Much has been written about the Glass Ceiling and the progress of women in breaking through to senior leadership roles. McKinsey & Co, and its Women in the Workplace 2019 studies finds that since 2015 the number of women in senior leadership has grown, particularly in the C Suite. More women are becoming senior leaders, through both promotion and external hiring.

So far so good …. however McKinsey research also showed that progress is constrained by a “broken rung” …. the first step up to manager. For every 100 men promoted and hired to manager, there are only 72 women in a similar position. With men holding 62% of manager level positions and women just 38%, this “broken rung” of early inequality has a long-term impact on the talent pipeline…. putting it simply there are just too few women in the pool to advance.

So what’s the solution? ……McKinsey suggest 5 steps to addressing the “broken rung”, from setting targets for the number of women at first level management to ensuring that women gain the opportunities to raise their profile and so enhance their chance of promotion. The unconscious bias section is an interesting one …. pointing out that while many companies have this in place for senior level roles, they are much less likely to have unconscious bias training in place at entry level / early careers level.

McKinsey also found that 87% of companies are highly committed to gender diversity, compared to 56% in 2012. However, only half of employees think gender diversity is a high priority for their company and that hasn’t changed over the last five years.

The survey and research were based in the US, although I imagine it would be broadly similar here in the UK. The numbers of young women entering the professions including management consultancy, law, medicine, accounting etc. has increased dramatically. It must be 50/50 by now or not far off ……but this” broken rung” theory is significant. Addressing and fixing it makes good business sense…the only way to meet the gender pay gap requirements is to not only hire but retain and promote women through the ranks.

If young women are missing out on early promotions …is there a training / coaching element to address? Are they capable yet not promoting their talents? Is it a question of confidence rather than ability? Do they need to take more risk, be bolder? If so, perhaps we at BLT can help – our career coaching division offers coaching for individuals and corporates across a spectrum of topics. Do get in touch if you would like to find out more, please contact Liz Watt on


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