Broken Pipeline: Report Examines Why Women Professionals Fall Off in Middle Management

By: GWL Team | Monday, 7 August 2023

The benefit of varied viewpoints and inclusive decision-making has been recognized in recent decades, which has significantly changed the landscape of leadership inside organizations. Despite these advancements, there is still a startling disparity: the underrepresentation of women in senior leadership roles.

While the number of women in entry level roles and junior positions has grown significantly, yet the same percentage is not represented in top leadership roles.

Many intelligent and accomplished women have been prevented from rising to the highest levels of corporate authority because of barriers and hurdles that have existed for them along the leadership pipeline for women, the path from entry-level jobs to executive leadership posts.

The journey towards gender equality in leadership positions has been an arduous one, with progress often coming at a glacial pace. Despite efforts to promote diversity and inclusion in the workplace, the leadership pipeline for women has shown signs of breaking down, according to a global study titled "Women in leadership: Why perception outpaces the pipeline—and what to do about it" by the IBM Institute for Business Value (IBV) and Chief.

The Broken Pipeline of Creating Women Leaders Globally

The study, which surveyed 2,500 organizations across 12 countries and 10 industries, reveals some encouraging developments: there has been a small increase in the number of women in C-suite and Board positions, now accounting for 12% of both roles. Additionally, there is now 40% representation of women in junior professional/specialist roles, up from 37% in 2021. However, the real challenge lies in the middle of the leadership pipeline. The representation of women in senior vice president roles has declined to 14%, down from 18% in 2019, and vice president roles have dropped to 16%, down from 19% in 2019.

Moreover, the study highlights that only 45% of the organizations surveyed have made advancing women into leadership roles a top, formal business priority. This indicates a lack of commitment and urgency in addressing the gender imbalance at higher echelons of corporate hierarchies.

Lindsay Kaplan, Co-Founder and Chief Brand Officer of Chief, emphasizes the need for more substantial efforts to address this issue: "While we're pleased to see slight progress in the representation of women at the C-suite and Board levels, it's imperative that companies do more to fill the pipeline that leads to these powerful positions."

The study reveals several key insights:

Optimism vs. Reality: Respondents were optimistic about achieving gender parity in leadership roles, estimating it would take about 10 years. However, the reality is that, based on the current rate of change, achieving gender parity is still decades away.

Structural Barriers and Unconscious Bias: Despite organizations implementing career development planning, diversity training, and women's networking groups, biases persist. For example, a significant portion of male managers (around 60%) still believe that women with dependent children are less dedicated to their jobs than women without children.

Gendered Attributes: Stereotypes persist in the perception of critical leadership attributes. Men are primarily valued for creativity, results-orientation, and integrity, while women are expected to be strategic, bold, and people-oriented.

Pandemic Impact: The pandemic has disproportionately affected women at work, causing significant disruptions in their careers and personal lives.

To address these issues and rebuild the broken pipeline for women leaders, the study offers a roadmap for sustainable progress:

Quantify the Economic Gains: Highlight the economic benefits of gender diversity in leadership positions to gain support from businesses.

Put Specific Directives and Measures: Set measurable goals for women's advancement and make them an integral part of the organization's action plan.

Drive Gender Equity Across the Pipeline: Move beyond awareness training and use experiential learning techniques to challenge biases.

Re-design Roles at the Top: Create gender-neutral requirements for top leadership positions to attract diverse talent.

Corrective Action

The study concludes that companies must prioritize gender diversity across their organizations through policies, investments, and a culture that genuinely supports women. By doing so, we can build a more equitable workplace and foster stronger, more resilient businesses.

Gender equality in leadership is not just a matter of fairness; it's a strategic imperative. Organizations that prioritize diversity and inclusion will be better equipped to thrive in an ever-changing world. As we look to the future, it is vital for businesses to act decisively and dismantle the barriers preventing women from ascending the leadership ladder.

By breaking down these barriers, we can create a more inclusive world that empowers women and unlocks their full potential as leaders. To achieve this, we must all work together to rebuild the pipeline and ensure that women are given equal opportunities to lead, innovate, and drive positive change in the global landscape.