The “glass ceiling“(a metaphor used to represent the barrier preventing women from ascending to senior-level leadership) is often referred to as the major hurdle for women in the workplace, but it might not be the whole story.
In a new report, consulting firm McKinsey & Co. and Lean In, a nonprofit founded by former Meta COO Sheryl Sandberg, have debunked what they say are four “myths” about the state of work for women in 2023, emphasizing that the “broken rung” (a lack of women being promoted early in their careers) is a greater obstacle than the “glass ceiling” for career advancement.
The report found that gender disparity begins early with fewer women given entry-level promotions, and it continues throughout leadership shifts in an organization, resulting in fewer women being promoted to senior positions.
From microaggressions to a perceived need for flexible work schedules, the report found several ways in which women are held back in the workforce. To start, in 2023, for every 100 men promoted to entry-level managerial positions, only 87 women made the cut. The number rises to 91 for white women, and 89 for Asian women, but falls significantly to 76 and 54 for Latina and Black women, respectively.
Here are four debunked “myths” about the state of women in the workplace, according to McKinsey & Co. and Lean In.
1. The biggest barrier to women’s advancement is the ‘glass ceiling.’
Reality: The “broken rung,” or the lack of promotion early on in one’s career, is what hinders women’s career growth.
The “glass ceiling” is often seen as the primary hurdle for women in career advancement. But in reality, the study found, it’s actually the “broken rung” — a barrier that occurs early in one’s career, suggesting that climbing the metaphorical career ladder (for example, going from manager to director), is a far more significant hurdle.
2. Myth: Women are less ambitious.
Reality: Women are just as ambitious as men, and more ambitious than ever.
Women exhibit a similar level of commitment to their professional growth and a comparable desire for career advancement as men, with 81% of both men and women reporting “interest in getting promoted to the next level,” according to the report.
Furthermore, eight out of ten women express a desire to be promoted to the next level within the year — an increase from seven out of ten in 2019.
3. Myth: Microaggressions have a ‘micro’ impact.
Reality: Microaggressions have a wide and lingering impact on women.
Microaggressions can manifest as subtle verbal or non-verbal behavior or comments, usually based on a person’s race, gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, or religion, that communicate derogatory or negative messages.
According to the report, these instances can have a negative and lasting impact on women more than men, making women 4.2 times more likely to “almost always feel burned out,” 3.8 times more likely to “feel they don’t have an equal opportunity to advance,” and 3.3 times more likely to “consider leaving their company.”
“By leaving microaggressions unchecked, companies miss out on everything women have to offer and risk losing talented employees,” the researchers wrote in the report.
4. Myth: It’s mostly women who want— and benefit from — flexible work.
Reality: Both men and women view flexibility as a top employee benefit.
The majority of employees consider the opportunity to work remotely and have control over their schedules as top-tier company benefits, ranking second only to healthcare, the report found.
Among those who work remotely, 29% of women and 25% of men highlight that one of the primary advantages is experiencing “fewer unpleasant interactions” with colleagues. However, a larger proportion of women (53%) mention a reduced sense of pressure when it comes to managing their personal style or appearance as compared to men (36%).