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Why We Should Care About The "Broken Rung" in Leadership Development Pipelines

We’ve all heard of the glass ceiling, but let's talk about the phenomenon known as the “broken rung” in the leadership pipeline for women.


Mckinsey & Company's 2020 Women in the Workplace initiative is the largest comprehensive study of the state of women in corporate America. Their research is showing time and time again that the biggest obstacle keeping women from advancing in their careers is what they call the "broken rung" - the first step into a manager role.

That initial missed promotion ends up holding women back for the rest of their careers. So it begins at the first step to promotion and continues throughout the leadership pipeline. For every 100 entry-level men promoted to manager-level roles, only 72 women are promoted—despite the fact that women and men seek promotions at similar rates.


This reframes the way we think about the glass ceiling.

Only 21% of all c-suite executives are women. Of that, only 3% are women of color. The number of women in leadership roles declines the higher and more powerful the position. But it's also not just about attaining the most top leadership role. In reality, women are disadvantaged from the get go. And that's why they call it a "broken rung".


Let me tell you a story about how former editor-in-chief of Cosmopolitan magazine and New York Times bestselling author, Kate White, was passed over for a promotion at a crucial point in her career: