Closing the ‘First Promotion’ Gender Gap Would Add 1 Million Women to Management

October 15, 2019, 4:01 AM UTC

For every 100 men promoted or hired into their first management position, only 72 women are given the opportunity to take the same step. Closing that gap would add 1 million women to management over the next five years, according to a new study.

The finding is part of Women in the Workplace, the annual study conducted by, the nonprofit founded by Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg, and consultancy McKinsey & Company. The organizations reached that 1 million number based on the 136 million private sector employees in the United States and Canada.

Overall, the researchers found that men hold 62% of manager-level positions to women’s 38%—a disparity that researchers attribute to the gender gap in early-career promotions. “If you fix that, the implication in sheer, absolute numbers is enormous,” says Alexis Krivkovich, a McKinsey senior partner and co-founder of the report. And closing the gap could even larger impact for women of color: according to the study, 68 Latinas and 58 black women were promoted to manager for two groups of 100 entry-level men who make the same jump.

Lean In and McKinsey call the promotion gap the “broken rung”—and the organizations say it’s the “biggest systemic barrier to gender parity.” Many companies aren’t aware of the problem, according to the survey; only 19% of human resources leaders said that getting promoted to first-level manager roles is one of the biggest challenges for women at work. Companies have focused their gender diversity efforts on the C-suite, which is the segment that’s seen the most progress in the past four years; 44% of companies now have three or more women in their C-suite, up from 29% in 2015. “There’s been so much focus on the glass ceiling,” Krivkovich says. “But the worst spot is in the very beginning.”

“Broken rung” positions include any role with management responsibility for other individuals—the kind of jobs that start the pathway to director, vice president, and then the corner office. “These are so early or low down in the talent pipeline that they don’t get the attention big roles do,” Krivkovich says. Part of the solution, the study diagnoses, is to give these roles greater attention by setting targets for the number of women in first-level management. It also suggests requiring diverse slates of candidates for hires and promotions at the early manager level—as has become a more common practice for executive roles—and establishing clear evaluation criteria before review processes.

“It’s great we’ve made huge leaps in the C-Suite,” Krivkovich says, “but if we’re not feeding the next generation, we’re going to end up with a hollow middle.”

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