Breaking the Glass Ceiling: Strategies for Advancing Women in Leadership and C-suite Roles

As expected, women and men hold approximately the same proportion of entry-level positions as their representation in the overall workforce. But women’s career progression varies significantly from that of their male counterparts. As McKinsey/LeanIn research documents, women’s representation declines to only 41% at the manager level, versus 59% of men. This “broken rung” worsens as women move up the organizational hierarchy, and ultimately only about 24% of women reach the C-suite. The pattern for women of color is even worse; their representation between entry-level and the C-suite declines by more than 75%, which is why they comprise only about 4% of C-suite leaders. As a result, women need organizations to provide rewards, recognition, and support systems that enable equitable career advancement.

How to do it:

Groom Women for Leadership, and C-level Roles

Organizations can implement systems to identify and groom female talent before they hit the broken managerial rung. Mentoring is valuable; sponsorship is essential. Research indicates that a junior manager with a sponsor is 21% more likely to climb up the career ladder than someone in the same position without one. Likewise, women in organizations that foster formal sponsorship networks for women are likely to make great strides. 

Address Gender Imbalance in Leadership Roles

Leaders should insist on constant visibility to the gender representation patterns in all parts of the enterprise. These data will provide the baseline so leaders can see if they are making progress on gender equity goals. And while organizations will naturally examine these patterns at all levels of the organization structure, they should also look at patterns within job families, functions, locations, and other ways in which inequities may be less visible. 

Finally, leaders should take systemic action to address any gender-based disparities. Some of that rebalancing may require bringing more women into the organization. However, organizations should also optimize the existing talent by consistently including developing women in candidate pools for high-visibility projects, promotions, and other career-enhancing opportunities.

Future-Proof Women’s Talent Through Upskilling

To ensure they are not left behind, organizations must provide upskilling programs and career progression opportunities. Managers play a critical role in helping women design their ideal career paths, develop new skills, and get opportunities aligned with those career goals. 

Mita Mallick, Head of Inclusion, Equity and Impact at Carta, advises, “Ensure that you are fair and equitable, investing in both women and men on your team. Whether it’s opportunities for executive coaching, attending conferences, being nominated for a leadership & development program, or being appointed to a company-wide task force, watch out for falling into the trap of nominating and supporting the same individuals over and over again”, Mallick adds. One way to provide women meaningful opportunities for reskilling and upskilling is to offer leadership coaching services. A professional coach can help women set personalized career development and advancement plans and empower them to achieve those goals. 

Tie Gender Equity to Business GoalsEmpower women with a fair shot at progression by removing institutional biases and linking female talent career progression to company goals. Again, you get what you incentivize. Hold managers accountable for advancing the women they lead by asking them to present their gender development and equity plans. Then, measure their progress and help them celebrate small wins. Eventually, that accountability should become a point of pride as managers realize their efforts support shared business goals.