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Corporate America’s ‘broken rung’ problem

September 28, 2021, 10:23 AM UTC

Good morning,

In America, one of the flaws in the corporate ladder for women is a “broken rung” at the first step up to manager, according to the new report Women in the Workplace 2021. The comprehensive research by LeanIn.Org and McKinsey & Company was released on Monday.

I had a conversation with Lareina Yee, senior partner at McKinsey, and Rachel Thomas, co-founder and CEO of Lean In, about the findings. For every 100 men promoted to manager, on average, only 86 women were promoted, Yee says. This gap has been persistent for the past last three years and hampers sustained progress of promotion to more senior levels like VP, she says. Looking at the practices of middle management may make a difference.

“It’s managers that are on the front lines of a lot of these hiring and promotions decisions at the broken rung level,” Thomas says. “Accountability is so critically important.” But only about a third of companies are holding managers accountable for progress and implementing diversity, equity, inclusion (DEI) metrics, she says. Meanwhile, two-thirds of companies are holding senior leaders accountable. Even so, “far fewer are putting teeth” behind the metrics, such as “hard expectations in place around what success looks like” or financial rewards for progress, Thomas says. 

CFOs can invest in programs and processes to give managers the training they need, but they also “have the power of the scorecard,” Yee says. “They can create transparent metrics that go all the way down to front line managers, in terms of how are they’re doing on their gender and diversity metrics,” she says. “CFOs, understandably, care about the bottom line of their business, as they should,” Thomas says. “That means they’ve got to get diversity right. And many organizations are making slow progress on that front.” I recently spoke with Maria Ferraro, who is both the CFO and chief inclusion and diversity officer at the technology company Siemens Energy AG. As finance chief, Ferraro provides “tangibility” of the fact that DEI is fundamental for sustainable value creation, she told me. 

Data detailed in the report is based on a survey of 65,000 employees across 423 companies. Although 90% of companies said DEI is a top or very important priority, it’s been a slow process of meeting goals. “McKinsey research calculates that corporate America has committed $200 billion to racial equity over the last year,” Yee says. “Even though we’ve made this huge commitment, we still need to do the day-to-day work. Black women, Latino women, and Asian women are not seeing that day-to-day and not experiencing an improvement in belonging and inclusion. That’s a worrying sign.”

In every level of the corporate pipeline, representation of women of color falls off relative to white employees and men of color, the report found. “We need mentorship, sponsorship, and allyship,” Yee says. “This year, we saw more men and women managers say that they wanted to be allies—close to 80%.” But about 21% who said they were allies actually did the work daily, she says. 

The research also found that as senior leaders, women are 26% are more likely than men to help team members navigate work/life challenges, and 60% more likely to provide emotional support to their teams. “This is just kind of a new style of people-focused leadership that we need,” Thomas explains. Women in leadership have focused on wellbeing and DEI, she says. “And a lot of this work is going on unrecognized and unrewarded,” Thomas says. As a result, women are significantly more burned out than they were last year, she says.

See you tomorrow.

Sheryl Estrada

Big deal

Young supply chain professionals have found a sense of purpose in delivering essential goods and services during the pandemic. The 2021 Council of Supply Chain Management Professionals (CSCMP) report released on September 21 examines the sentiment of supply chain professionals age 30 and younger. About 58% of respondents said they pursued a supply chain career due to its beneficial societal impact, according to the report. In comparison, just 13% of respondents said the same in 2019. Approximately 88% of supply chain professionals identified their jobs as good, 80% felt it was better than most, and 77% deemed their work as enjoyable. The report was produced by Korn Ferry and presented by Penske Logistics.

Going deeper

It may take until 2024 until business travel revenue reaches pre-pandemic levels, according to this month's report by the American Hotel & Lodging Association (AHLA) and Kalibri Labs. The report projects the hotel industry will end this year down more than $59 billion in business travel revenue compared to 2019. Last year, the industry lost almost $49 billion in business travel revenue. Hotels in the U.S. are expected to end this year down almost 500,000 jobs compared to 2019. New York City, Washington, D.C., and San Francisco are the top three markets projected to end 2021 with the largest declines in hotel business travel revenue. “Business travel is critical to our industry’s viability, especially in the fall and winter months when leisure travel normally begins to decline," Chip Rogers, president and CEO of AHLA, said in a statement. "Continued COVID-19 concerns among travelers will only exacerbate these challenges."


Lillian Etzkorn was named EVP and CFO at Covia, a provider of mineral-based and material solutions for industrial and energy markets, effective October 11. Etzkorn succeeds Andrew Eich, who was promoted to president on June 1. Etzkorn joins Covia from Shiloh Industries, where she has served as SVP and CFO since 2018. Her experience also includes serving as CFO of CPI Card Group, VP of treasury and senior director of investor relations for Dana Incorporated and several senior-level financial positions with Ford Motor Company.

Roberto Cuca was named COO and CFO at TELA Bio, Inc., a commercial-stage medical technology company. Most recently, Cuca served as CFO at OraSure Technologies. He previously served as SVP and CFO at Trevana, Inc. and held various leadership positions within the finance organization of Endo Health Solutions Inc., a pharmaceutical company.


“It’s the strangest thing I’ve ever worked on.”

—Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella discussed at the Code Conference the company’s unsuccessful attempt to acquire TikTok last year, according to GeekWire.

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