The Broken Rung: The first step towards equality?

shutterstock | 100% Human at Work
Image by fizkes
Hollie Stanton
by Hollie Stanton
3 September 2021
100% Human at Work is a charitable initiative that was incubated by The B Team and Virgin Unite in 2014.

The 100% Human at Work team, along with all partnering organisations, are committed to catalysing a future of work that serves both humanity and the planet.

For many years people have talked about the ‘glass ceiling’ and how to ensure equity at the top of the corporate ladder, but the reality is that many people are being held back at the very start of the ladder and falling behind at that first critical promotion to manager.

This missed promotion can have a drastic impact and hold people back for the rest of their careers and is often referred to as the ‘broken rung’.

The LeanIn.Org and McKinsey 2020 Women in the Workplace study found that the broken rung results in fewer women - particularly women of colour - becoming managers. The study highlighted that women were significantly outnumbered in entry-level management at the beginning of 2020, with 38% of women in manager-level positions, compared to 62% of men.

Image by Andy S Images
Image by Andy S Images

The ‘broken rung’ serves as the root of the problem and if it is not addressed has the potential to impact equality and belonging across entire organisations.

100% Human at Work have recently hosted some conversations with our community to find out what different organisations are doing to address the broken rung.

We found that there are three distinct areas of focus when addressing the broken rung:

  1. Recruitment and how to bring people into organisations

  2. When people are in work - how are the decisions made to identify and prepare employees to step up from entry level roles and into their first leadership position

  3. When people enter their first leadership position - how are they supported and helped to succeed

Here’s a few ideas that the 100% Human at Work community shared with us:

Embedding this mindset into the culture of the organisation

  • Organisations are linking leadership team objectives and bonuses with equality outcomes.

Using data and technology to remove bias

  • Data has a vital role to play in understanding whether an organisation has a ‘broken rung’ – this can be used as a vehicle to spark conversation. Too many decisions about management potential are made using subjective information and are based on relationships and perception. By using algorithms to pull performance data, organisations can assess individuals who are ready for promotion and look at this independently and without human bias.

Making the process for promotion transparent

  • Making job descriptions, associated KPIs, and job-related performance measures accessible to everyone is important to ensure people understand what skills and experience are needed for these positions. It also allows people to work with their managers to develop their skills and experience to get from where they are to the next position.

Helping people feel psychological safety

  • How do we help people to feel safe to ask the questions they want to ask if not everything is transparent? Organisations need to be proactive in saying ‘what do you want to do next?’ and allow people the space to ask questions and learn together. This is critical for development and to help people feel psychologically safe. At the current rate and speed, just in the area of gender equality, it will take 135 years to reach parity in the workplace. So whilst we have to take a systemic approach, we shouldn’t wait to fix all of the systemic issues before we take action. We must be bold in our thinking and start driving change today.

We’d love to hear what you are doing in your organisations to fix the broken rung. Please head over to the 100% Human at Work website to learn more and connect with us directly.