HomeLearning CenterIt’s Not the ‘Glass Ceiling’ Holding Women Back

It’s Not the ‘Glass Ceiling’ Holding Women Back

Originally published by Aimee Picchi for CBS News

The struggle women face landing senior leadership roles in corporate America is commonly blamed on the “glass ceiling” — the metaphorical gender barrier that blocked their ascent to the highest levels of management. Yet new research indicates that the problems for women in the workforce begin far lower down the professional ladder.

Women early in their careers are far more likely to stumble on a “broken rung,” or failing to get a promotion out of their entry-level jobs at the same rate as men, according to a new study from consulting firm McKinsey & Co. and Lean In, the nonprofit started by former Meta Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg. 

For every 100 male employees promoted from entry-level jobs to managerial roles, only 87 women received a similar promotion, according to the report. The broken rung is even harder to surmount for women of color, with only 73 receiving that first promotion for every 100 men who are moved up, the study found. 

That failure to climb the ladder isn’t due to lack of ambition, with the survey of 27,000 workers finding that women have the same goals for advancing their careers as men. But bias may play a role, with corporate leaders often promoting young male employees on their potential, while young women are judged more by their track records — a tougher standard when female workers are just starting in their careers. 

“Social science would tell you that gender bias, and bias around what a leader looks like, all of that is much more likely to creep in when employees have shorter track records,” Rachel Thomas, CEO of Lean In, told CBS MoneyWatch. 

Eliminating the glass ceiling may seem easier given that the pipeline is smaller at the top of the corporate hierarchy, she added. But it’s the broken rung where more attention needs to be focused because that will unlock more opportunity for women, leading to a greater number in leadership roles and potentially boosting the share of women in C-suite roles. The share of women in the C-suite now stands at 28%, up from 17% in 2015.  

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