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  • Writer's pictureElizabeth McFarlan Scott

Forget the Glass Ceiling: Women Are Tripping On a Broken Rung Lower In the Career Ladder. Is This the Year To Fix it?

women broken rung

International Women’s Day is coming up on March 8th, and this year, the theme is “Inspire Inclusion”. This reminded us at Nua of the latest “Women in the Workplace” report published by, which highlighted the challenges women continue to face being included in leadership roles. What stood out to us was the concept of the “broken rung” – that crucial step on the career ladder when an employee transitions from individual contributor to manager. 

The report found that women are disproportionately falling behind with 14% fewer women making the transition, resulting in women holding only 39% of manager roles globally. This seemingly small gap has a cascading effect, impacting women's representation and leadership opportunities at all levels of the organization.

So, what does it take to “inspire inclusion” in leadership?  Of course, there are many aspects to this, but as experts in Total Rewards and HR Operations, we have a front-row seat to some of the gaps that cause the “broken rung” and ultimately impact the inclusion of women at leadership levels.  

Here are three foundational requirements for organizations to fix the broken rung:

1. Establish a Clear Job Architecture and Leveling Criteria

Your jobs are the rungs in the ladder, and if the architecture is not there, the ladder is already broken. Many organizations suffer because their structure is too convoluted to even begin analyzing data related to career progression. A job architecture with clearly articulated leveling and promotion criteria lays the groundwork for a sturdy ladder and a path to understanding and addressing the broken rung.

2. Check Your Policies and Processes Around Career Mobility 

Effective decision-making about career progression is vital. What policies and processes do you have in place that facilitate employee movement between and along the rungs of the career ladder?  Are you clear on promotion criteria?  Do your promotion policies provide open opportunities to all?  Are development opportunities equitably available?  Are you diligently monitoring gender and equity impacts when hiring and promotion decisions are made?

3. Build in a Regular Cadence of Equity Reviews 

Even if you have the right structure, policies, programs, and processes, the reality is that hiring and promotion decisions are made by managers on a day-to-day basis. It is imperative that not only the HR team but also managers and leaders have access to accurate and comprehensive data to analyze and identify trends. Data can be a powerful tool for change if it is available and analyzed properly to make actionable decisions. Make sure you have established the right mechanisms to continuously monitor progress within your workforce. 

Ultimately, fixing the broken rung is not just about doing the right thing for women; it's about unlocking the full potential of your entire workforce. By creating a culture of equitable opportunity, you'll build a stronger, more successful organization for everyone.

Want to learn more about how we help organizations fix the broken rung?  Get in touch!

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