Mitigating the Broken Rung

Today’s post comes to us from Workforce Institute board member, Mark Wales. Here he discusses the career ladder problem of the broken rung.

The annual Women in the Workplace study conducted by LeanIn.org and the consulting firm McKinsey & Company was recently released. This study – comprised of 329 companies that employ 13 million people – brands itself as the largest analysis of the state of women in corporate America and provides a deep dive into their experiences in the workforce as the fight for gender parity continues.

One of the more interesting findings of this year’s study is that, contrary to the popular narrative, it is not the “glass ceiling” that is keeping women from the top, but a “broken rung” much lower down on the corporate ladder. The report finds that when women miss out on that first promotion into management, they then play a game of catch up with fewer and fewer women competing for each subsequent elevated position. In fact, for every 100 men promoted and hired to management, only 72 women are. As a result, men end up holding 62% of manager positions, with women holding just 38%.

The Milgard School of Business, part of the University of Washington Tacoma, has an interesting new program to try to help solve this problem. The Milgard Women’s Initiative (MWI) mentorship program harnesses the power of experienced executives to help students prepare for the challenges of the workplace. The mission of the MWI is to advocate for all women and, in collaboration with people around the world, to engage women as creative and innovative leaders throughout their organizations and communities. The mentorship program is an opportunity for students to partner with a senior professional in the local community to share experience and wisdom. The mentorship program features group networking sessions as well as monthly one-on-one meetings. A curriculum of suggested readings and discussion prompts is provided to the participants, giving them three themes to work through during the academic year. The themes are leading through influence, communication differences between men and women, and giving and receiving feedback.

This program is a great example of not just how aspiring students can help themselves, but also a concrete way for current or retired executives to provide support for future generations of industry leadership. If we look back on our careers we all recognize people who – whether formally or informally – gave us support, guidance and coaching. We wouldn’t have achieved many of our successes without those insights and practical help.

I would recommend that we all consider how we can help aspiring young managers. It may be within your own organization or, as with the Milgard School of Business, though a local educational or non-profit organization.

Did a mentor make a difference in your career? Tell us about it in the comments section.

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