The Broken Rung: Gender Inequality in the Workplace

The Broken Rung

What is gender inequality and why is gender inequality an issue?

As women, our biggest hurdle to professional success isn’t a glass ceiling; it’s a broken rung — that first step of being promoted from entry-level roles to managers. Passing that first rung on the ladder happens less often and at a slower pace for women, which is a systemic barrier to entry we need to fix.

McKinsey’s 2021 Women in the Workplace Report found that, despite women and men entering the workforce in roughly similar numbers, for every 100 men promoted to first-level manager, only 72 women were promoted. That translates to men holding 62% of manager positions, while women bring up the rear with 38%. It means fewer women rise to the C-suite because fewer are being promoted to first-level manager, which starts them on that climb.

That broken rung is still doing a number on the talent pipeline. Without fixing it, we won’t see equity in the C-suite. And, with the mass exodus of women from the workforce during the pandemic, the gender equity situation in American companies is going from bad to worse.

Despite some companies making more visible efforts to correct gender inequities, the day-to-day lives of professional women — especially women of color — aren’t improving much at all. Women face barriers to promotion and are often mommy tracked. “Mommy tracking” refers to a career path that allows for more work-life balance — due to reduced hours or flexible schedules — but often hinders career advancement.They may face sexual harassment at work. 

Varied and overlapping identities compound the effects of gender inequality, especially when it comes to the pay gap. For example, Equal Pay Day marks how far into a new year women must work to earn what men were paid the previous year. But even Equal Pay Day isn’t actually equal! In 2021, “all women’s” date was March 24, Black Women’s Equal Pay Day was August 3, Indigenous Women’s was September 8 and Latina Women’s Equal Pay Day was October 21. 

This is not sustainable and it is not acceptable. So how do we begin to level the playing field? 

  1. Standardize pay. People should be paid the same wage for the same job. Period. Leadership needs to evaluate compensation and make moves to equalize.
  2. Offer flexible work options. Women often have a wide range of roles and responsibilities outside work. They shouldn’t be penalized for getting their work done outside of a traditional office or 9-to-5 schedule. 
  3. Empower through coaching and mentorship. Unfortunately, just saying “you got this” doesn’t actually provide women with the tools they need to confidently climb the career ladder. Put simply, mentoring works. Beyond encouragement, mentoring offers one-on-one support for navigating obstacles to career success — especially for women of color.

If you’re interested in learning more about mentoring, we invite you to visit our website and consider applying to become a mentor or a mentee.

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