What can you do about the ‘Broken Rung”? Helping women to have parity with men with their upward mobility.

The Lean In Org has just recently released it’s 2019 Women in the Workplace report and some of the results are surprising. It seems that women have a new obstacle to hamper their upward mobility. We have heard for decades about the ‘glass ceiling’ that women face when trying to climb to upper levels of management. Progress has been made with women in senior leadership levels in recent years, though women, especially women of color, are still underrepresented at every leadership level in an organization. However, surprisingly, research has found that the biggest obstacle for women’s progression is not the glass ceiling but the first step up to manager, called the “broken rung.” This broken rung results in more women getting stuck at the entry level and fewer women becoming managers, therefore reducing the pool to draw on for future promotions. As a result, there are significantly fewer women to advance to higher levels and they will never catch up. And women of color are even more likely to be held back by this scenario.
Companies have spent a lot of time on programs trying to fix the glass ceiling, but the same rigor needs now to be applied to lower levels of management. In my mind that can easily be fixed – to get to gender parity across the entire pipeline, companies need to become aware of this broken rung and put in programs to eliminate it. Here are a few specific things you can do for that first entry level promotion to make the playing field equal for all.

Actively recruit diverse candidates for entry level management positions:

This seems pretty obvious but it’s not always being done. At one point in my career I was in the training dept. and responsible for a program that brought high potential employees to the head office for a 2-year intensive facilitator/management training program. At the end of the 2 years these employees were a ready pool of candidates, able to step up to their first management position. Early on in my tenure there I noticed that the people that applied for the program were mostly white males, which meant that there would be no diversity in the next ready pool of potential management candidates. And if you don’t have a large diverse pool of candidates applying for each job, your chances of hiring diverse employees are slim and that pool would get smaller at each step as these people moved up the ranks. So I set out to figure out why so few women and people of color were applying for my program. Some of it was family related – many women couldn’t just pick up and move, but I had some solutions for that. More importantly, when I started actually recruiting women and people of color – reaching out and asking them to consider the program, they were much more interested and applied in droves. Very often women don’t see their own potential, nor what is standing in their way. They may not think they are ready to take the step into management or perhaps have an unrealistic idea of what is involved. Or they may not think they are fully qualified or that anyone really values them for what they can do. They may need someone to believe in them and help them take that first big step. Reaching out and inviting them to participate may be all the impetus they need.

There are many different things a company can do to help and prepare women for that first big step – provide mentor or sponsorship opportunities, support women’s affinity groups, lunch & learns, webinars, provide high profile assignments, leadership training, have Senior women lead the cause and more. But you can’t wait and hope it will happen, because history shows that ‘hoping it will happen’ as a strategy, doesn’t work.

Educate all employees as to what is involved in entry level management positions – what skills, attributes, and values does the company look and hire for?

This report highlights that there may be a disconnect between what the company expects & values of their employees vs what the employees think they do. What does a good leader look like in this organization? What are their expectations and is it the same for all? What skills, attributes and requirements are needed for the job? Very often this is not laid out clearly and can lead to perceptions of unfairness. Why did that person get the job when I have the same skills etc.? This means establishing a clear evaluation criteria before the review process begins and to make sure that all hiring Managers use the same criteria. Evaluation tools should also be easy to use and designed to gather objective, measurable input. For example, a rating scale is generally more effective than an open-ended assessment. That way you can justify your decision but also ensure that bias hasn’t come into play, because very often people aren’t aware of their own biases.

Managers should have set expectations about hiring for diversity:

You don’t necessarily need to have policies, procedures & targets around representation for entry level promotions but then again perhaps you do. Many companies have those in place for more senior level promotions but often leave the lower level ones up to the discretion of the hiring managers. Finding diverse candidates isn’t easy, it’s a lot easier to just take the pool of potential candidates that shows up and say, “well I didn’t have any better pool to choose from”.

You can tell a Manager that values diversity from the ones that don’t, just by looking at the employees that work for them. If you don’t want to set specific targets for entry level management positions, it should be a requirement on the Manager’s job description and personnel reviews with documentation required. And it should be reinforced from the most Senior Management level on down.

Require that every job interview has a diverse panel of interviewers:

Countless women talk about the interviews they have had for their next level promotion when they are the only woman in the room. How likely were they to get the promotion and what kind of message does that send to the employee about the company’s belief in diversity or fairness in general? Even though they may not say anything, they notice. The Lean In report mentions that when two or more women are included on an interview panel, the likelihood that a woman will get the position rises dramatically. And even better if there are women of color on the panel as well.

Put all Managers through unconscious bias training:

This is becoming more important in the workplace today because as mentioned, a lot of bias is unconscious, people don’t necessarily mean to discriminate but it happens. Unconscious bias can play a large role in determining who is hired, promoted, or left behind. Companies have often provided this training for those hiring more senior level people but not for entry level positions. For so many reasons, all Managers should have this training because it will not only help in the hiring process, but in all areas of their employee interactions as well.

If you can help your companies put some of these practices in place, what would this mean? If women are promoted and hired to first-level management at the same rates as men, we will add one million more women to management in corporate America over the next five years. And we will set off a chain reaction that will eventually lead to parity across the entire pipeline.

Read the full report here: https://leanin.org/women-in-the-workplace-2019?utm_source=newsletter&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=wiw

Are you ready to take your leadership skills to the next level? Are you developing your employees so they don’t fall prey to the ‘broken rung’. And are you managing your career so you will get to the level in your company that you aspire to? Take my quick assessment quiz to find the key areas you need to focus on to achieve the success you want: https://assess.coach/kpcoaching