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January 30, 2024

Repairing the broken rung - Women in Tech

Cogent Infotech
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January 30, 2024

Repairing the broken rung - Women in Tech

The technology industry has long struggled with gender inequality in the workplace, particularly when it comes to the representation of women in leadership positions. The "broken rung" problem, in which women are disproportionately represented in entry-level positions and face barriers to advancement, has been well-documented in recent years.

Despite efforts to promote diversity and inclusion in the tech industry, progress has been slow, and women continue to face significant challenges when it comes to advancing their careers.

According to the 2021 Women in the Workplace report by McKinsey & Company, which was co-authored by LeanIn.Org, women are promoted at a slower rate as compared to males. The report suggests that only 86 females are promoted to the position of manager, as compared to 100 men who are at the same level. When it comes to the tech industry, the numbers change to 52 women being promoted for every 100 men at the managerial level.

This percentage has not significantly increased over the past five years. The report further found that women in the technology industry are 1.4 times more likely to think that their gender will make it harder for them to get a raise, promotion, or chance to get ahead compared to women in other industries.

By understanding the challenges faced by women in tech careers and taking action to promote gender equality, companies can create a more diverse and inclusive workplace that benefits everyone.

What is the Broken Rung Problem?

 The broken rung problem refers to the phenomenon where women are disproportionately underrepresented in the first step of the corporate ladder. This is typically at the entry-level manager position. This has been identified as a major barrier to achieving gender diversity in leadership roles and advancing women in the workplace.

Understanding the Broken Rung Problem

 The broken rung problem is a significant issue that persists in many industries and organizations. The McKinsey study also claimed that women hold only 38% of manager-level positions, while men hold 62%. This disparity is even greater at the entry-level manager position, where women hold just 37% of roles, compared to men, who hold 63%. This "broken rung" in the corporate ladder creates a significant barrier to women's career advancement, and it has remained largely unchanged for several years.

The impact of the broken rung problem is far-reaching and significant. It limits women's opportunities for career advancement, which can result in lower earnings, fewer benefits, and less job security. It can also negatively impact women's morale, job satisfaction, and overall well-being. Moreover, the lack of gender diversity in leadership positions can harm organizational performance, as they miss out on the benefits of diverse perspectives and ideas.

While it is true that progress has been made in some areas, such as increased representation on corporate boards, the broken rung problem remains a significant barrier to achieving gender equality in leadership roles.

Importance of Addressing the Broken Rung Problem

The broken rung problem in tech careers for women is an issue that must be addressed for several reasons. The importance of addressing the broken rung problem can be highlighted with the following reasons:

Business Benefits

Promoting gender diversity and inclusion in the workplace is not only the right thing to do, but it also has proven business benefits. Studies have shown that companies with more diverse leadership teams are more innovative, make better decisions, and achieve better financial performance. By addressing the broken rung problem and promoting gender diversity in tech careers, companies can tap into the full potential of their workforce and gain a competitive advantage in the marketplace.

Gender Equality

Addressing the broken rung problem is crucial for achieving gender equality in the workplace and beyond. Women make up a significant portion of the workforce in the technology industry, and ensuring that they have equal opportunities for career advancement and leadership roles is essential for achieving gender parity. By breaking down the barriers that prevent women from advancing in tech careers, organizations can create a more just and equitable society for everyone.

Future-ready Organization

Addressing the broken rung problem is important for the future of the technology industry itself. The technology industry is growing rapidly, and there is an increasing demand for skilled workers in areas such as artificial intelligence, cybersecurity, and data science. If women continue to be excluded from leadership roles and career advancement opportunities in tech, the industry will miss out on a significant source of talent and innovation. By addressing the broken rung problem and promoting gender diversity in tech careers, companies can ensure that the industry has the skills and perspectives it needs to thrive in the future.

Causes of the Broken Rung

The broken rung problem in tech careers for women is caused by a variety of factors. The key causes of the broken rung in organizations are explained below:

Bias and Discrimination

Bias and discrimination can take many forms in the workplace. From overt acts of sexism to unconscious biases that affect hiring and promotion decisions, all of it is counted as bias and discrimination. Women in tech often face stereotypes and assumptions that they are not as technically skilled as their male counterparts. It can lead to lower expectations, less recognition for their accomplishments, and limited career advancement opportunities.

Studies have shown that women are more likely to face bias and discrimination in the workplace. Women of color experience even higher levels of bias and discrimination because of double marginalization. These biases and discriminatory practices can lead to women being passed over for promotions. As a result, they end up receiving lower salaries and bonuses and being excluded from important networks and opportunities.

Lack of Sponsorship and Mentorship

Another major cause of the broken rung problem is the lack of sponsorship and mentorship opportunities for women in tech. It can be crucial for career advancement, as they provide women with access to valuable networks, guidance, and support.

However, studies have shown that women are often less likely to have sponsors and mentors than their male colleagues. This can be due to a variety of factors, including a lack of women in leadership positions, unconscious biases, and a lack of support for women's career development.

Unequal Opportunities and Expectations

The broken rung problem in tech careers for women can also be attributed to unequal opportunities and expectations. Women may be given less challenging assignments or be excluded from high-profile projects, which can limit their exposure and career advancement opportunities. Additionally, women may face different expectations and standards than their male colleagues, which can lead to lower performance evaluations and limited career advancement.

Research has shown that women are more likely to experience imposter syndrome and self-doubt, which can be exacerbated by these unequal expectations and opportunities. This can lead women to doubt their abilities and limit their career aspirations, which can perpetuate the broken-rung problem.

Solutions to the Broken Rung problem

There can be several solutions that can help address the broken rung problem in organizations. Here are the key solutions to the broken rung problem:

Implementing Effective Mentorship Programs

One way to address the broken rung problem is by implementing effective mentorship programs. Mentorship can provide women with guidance, support, and advice as they navigate their careers, and it can help to build their networks and increase their visibility within their organizations.

Companies can implement structured mentorship programs that pair women with more experienced leaders who can offer guidance and support. These programs can be particularly effective if they are designed to address the specific challenges faced by women, such as bias and discrimination. 

An example of an effective mentorship program is the Women's Leadership Program at Deloitte. The program pairs high-potential women with senior leaders who provide guidance, support, and career advice. The program includes structured training, coaching, and networking opportunities and is effective in helping women advance their careers.

Providing Sponsorship Opportunities

Sponsorship is another approach that can help to address the broken rung problem. Unlike mentorship, sponsorship involves a senior leader advocating for and actively promoting the career advancement of a junior employee.

Sponsors can provide women with access to high-visibility projects, stretch assignments, and other career-building opportunities. Companies can encourage sponsorship by identifying and training senior leaders to be effective sponsors and by creating a culture that values and rewards sponsorship.

A great example of a sponsorship program is the Emerging Leaders Program at Accenture. The program pairs high-potential women with senior sponsors who advocate their career advancement. They also provide high-visibility projects, stretch assignments, and other career-building opportunities to potential talent. The program is effective in advancing women's careers and increasing their representation in leadership positions.

Addressing Bias and Discrimination Through Training and Policies

To address the systemic biases and discrimination that contribute to the broken rung problem, companies must provide training to all employees to recognize and address these issues. Training can include unconscious bias training, diversity and inclusion training, and training on how to identify and address discrimination.

Additionally, companies must have policies and procedures in place to address discrimination and harassment and must hold employees accountable for violating these policies. 

One company that has taken a proactive approach to address bias and discrimination is Google. The company has implemented mandatory unconscious bias training for all employees. It has policies in place to address discrimination and harassment. Additionally, Google has created employee resource groups that provide support and advocacy for underrepresented groups, including women.

Encouraging Flexibility in the Workplace

Flexibility in the workplace can also help to address the broken rung problem by allowing women to balance their work and personal responsibilities more effectively. Companies can offer flexible work arrangements, such as remote work or flexible hours, to accommodate the needs of their employees. They can also encourage a culture that values work-life balance and promotes the use of flexible work arrangements.

A great example of a company that values flexibility in the workplace is IBM. The company has implemented a flexible work program that allows employees to work remotely or on a flexible schedule. Additionally, the company offers a variety of other benefits, such as onsite child care and paid parental leave, that support work-life balance and encourages women to stay in the workforce.


It is important to address the broken rung problem because it is not only unfair to women, but it also has negative consequences for businesses. Companies that fail to promote gender equality in leadership positions are at a disadvantage when it comes to attracting and retaining top talent and may also face reputational and legal risks.

Cogent Infotech helps organization hire the best in technology with its AI-powered systems and an expert recruiting team. Visit our resources to read more such informational articles.



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