For Black Women, The Biggest Systematic Workplace Barrier Begins At Entry-Level

The concrete ceiling is still an issue for Black women with C-suite aspirations.  However, the latest LeanIn.Org and McKinsey & Company report, released today, shows that Black women at the entry-level stage of their careers face a far more significant systematic barrier called the “broken rung.” The “broken rung” is the limited opportunity to be promoted to a manager, which is the first step towards the C-Suite pipeline. 

Some of us call it the “concrete ceiling,” but most of us know it as the glass ceiling. Black women face a unique set of challenges when looking to get over the hurdle of senior leader to C-Suite.

Due to the intense pressure placed on organizations for gender diversity on their boards, many companies have shown a 29 percent improvement in promoting women to the C-suite since 2015.

According to LeanIn.Org and McKinsey & Company’s Women in the Workplace 2019 report, the C-Suite has shown progress within the pipeline for women with “44 percent of companies having three or more women in their C-suite.” However, Black women still have a disparity with only 1 in 25 C-suite executives identify as a woman of color.

The study collected information from 329 participating organizations employing 13 million people and surveyed more than 68,500 employees to understand their day-to-day work experiences better. Among the key findings was the risk women face earlier in their careers when pursuing the promotion to manager known as the “broken rung.”

This early-career challenge can slow and even halt Black women’s mobility in the workforce and greatly impact their overall career salary. The study revealed that for every 100 entry-level men who got promoted to manager, only 58 Black women are promoted.

This new key finding is based on five years of pipeline data from hundreds of companies.  The study revealed, “this ‘broken rung’ is the most significant systemic barrier to gender parity.”

As for what will it take for companies to finally level up? One way to help Black women walk though the management threshold is more sponsorship and support at work. With 41 percent of Black women setting their eyes on a top executive role, compared to 29 percent of white women, there is still a lack of resources and support needed to get us there.

Additional findings from the study showed that only 26 percent of the Black women surveyed believed they have equal access to sponsorship. Having someone to advocate for you when you are not in a room is key to workplace advancement. However, that sponsorship in and outside of their organizations is hard to find, leaving only 28 percent of Black women to feel that the best opportunities go the most deserving employees.

Only time will tell. But one thing is for certain, Black women are not waiting around.