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Long before hitting a glass ceiling in the workplace, women face a ‘broken rung,’ report finds

To be sure, women in corporate America have come along way in the last decade.

While the overall gender pay gap has not changed much, it has narrowed among top executives. And, for the first time ever, women CEOs make up more than 10% among Fortune 500 companies.

But CEOs are often recruited from among top leadership and seeing even more women in the C-suite is key to having more women ascend to the highest levels.

More from Women and Wealth:

Here’s a look at more coverage in CNBC’s Women & Wealth special report, where we explore ways women can increase income, save and make the most of opportunities.

That’s where progress often falls short, according to the annual Women in the Workplace study from Lean In and McKinsey.

“The ‘broken rung’ is the biggest barrier to women’s advancement,” said Rachel Thomas, Lean In’s CEO and co-founder. “Companies are effectively leaving women behind from the very beginning of their careers, and women can never catch up.”

Inequity ‘compounds vastly’ over a career

Although women have made gains in representation at the senior level, advancements are slower at the manager and director levels, the report found.

In fact, the biggest hurdle to advancement begins at the critical first step up to manager, according to Thomas: Only 87 women — and 73 women of color — are promoted for every 100 men.

Largely due to systemic bias, women are prevented from getting the same opportunities to advance, Lean In’s report found.

The glass ceiling is a myth. [Inequity] starts from day one and continues at every juncture.
Stefanie O’Connell Rodriguez
host of the “Money Confidential” podcast

Men end up holding 60% of manager-level positions, while women hold just 40%, and as a result, there are fewer women to promote to director and so on, the report concluded.

“The glass ceiling is a myth,” said Stefanie O’Connell Rodriguez, host of the “Money Confidential” podcast.

There is an inequity that “starts from day one and continues at every juncture — and that compounds vastly over the course of the career,” she added.

Ways to battle gender barriers

Finding people within an organization that will lobby on your behalf is key, according to Laurie Chamberlin, head of LHH Recruitment Solutions, North America, a division of the Adecco Group.

“Women tend to look for mentors and men tend to look for sponsors who will help them negotiate,” she said.  

Mentors play an important role in providing advice and support at work, but they may not influence the person making decisions. That makes a difference, according to Gallup.

A mentor shares knowledge and provides guidance, while a sponsor provides access to opportunities at work and advocates for career advancement.

From a policy standpoint, pay transparency legislation is also important, Rodriguez added.

Overall, salary bands, or the pay ranges organizations establish for specific roles, has already helped level the playing field, according to recent research from job site Ladders.

The idea is that pay transparency will bring about pay equity, or essentially equal pay for work of equal or comparable value, regardless of worker gender, race or other demographic category.

“There’s a long way to go, but it’s still really promising,” Rodriguez said.

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