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What is the ‘broken rung’ and how can you navigate it?

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Often the food chain of businesses is represented as a ladder. You start your climb in entry-level with the hope of reaching the top floor, or the chief executive suite.

This analogy, however, fails to capture the difficulty and bias along the way. Climbing up a ladder takes minutes, climbing up the corporate one takes a lifetime.

What is the broken rung?

Each rung is a battle and for women, it’s even more of an uphill battle as the first rung is broken. According to McKinsey’s report on Women in the Workplace across the world, it found that women held just 38 percent of entry-level management positions while men held 62 percent in 2019. That means for every 100 men promoted only 85 women are promoted, and for Latina and black women that gap widens (71 Latinas promoted to every 100 men, and 58 black women to every 100 men).

This has happened for each of the six years McKinsey has released the report showing just how glacially slow corporations are moving to address these systemic gender biases holding women back. 

For the most part, companies have advanced in transparency and providing different health benefits. In the pandemic, senior leaders have done well telling their employees about the crisis and how it’s impacting their company. Over the past decade, trainings have become more sophisticated incorporating mental health and personal support outside of the office. Women in business have also seen an uptick as more women are attending business schools

However, corporations still fail to address the underlying issues that cause stress, burnout, and bias. Certain behaviours have become normalised and cornerstones of the workplace. A rigorous performance review, leadership that does represent different demographics and constant financial anxiety are the most notable. 

Despite the heavy professional strain of the pandemic and the fear of job stability, companies haven’t eased performance or productivity metrics, instead tightened up the reigns and have become more critical of performance. 

Additionally, parity in the workplace has been a long-sought-after goal that is moving at turtle-pace with the threat of an enormous backslide due to the pandemic. It’s been reported that nearly one in four women are considering a downshift in their career, if not a complete exit from the workplace due to Covid-19. This would unravel any advancements for women in the workplace over the past decade. 

The point of drawing out these realities isn’t to dispower corporations or efforts to seek gender parity, instead to show just how important it is to empower women in the workplace. Here are a few methods to help women leap over the ‘broken rung’:


  • Find a mentor. According to Guider, you are five times more likely to get promoted if you have a mentor. So, it’s time to put that networking hat on.
  • Make your name known. Visibility is important in any company, especially a bigger one. You want to make sure that the decision-makers know who you are. Attend company events, show off your work accomplishments, and connect with senior-level executives. 
  • Take on extra responsibilities. Do the job before you get the title. This means taking on extra responsibilities so that there is no room for doubting whether not you can handle the workload. 
  • Always aim to learn something new. Continuous learning is essential for reaching the top of the corporate ladder. Whether that means attending business school or taking reading a book in your industry, always keep your mind open to learning new things.
  • Know your worth. Lastly, but most importantly, know your worth. The thing that will get you through promotion or miss promotion, hire or fire, and any other challenge the workplace throws your way is having an unflappable faith in your abilities.


Yes, for women the corporate ladder has a broken rung. And the pandemic is like a storming tornado threatening your climb up this ladder. However, recognising these fault points is important in learning how to champion them. Read some of the below quotes from female business leaders to find some motivation.

Powerful women infographic

In your opinion, what is the ‘broken rung’? How did you get round it? Let us know in the comments below.

Career CamelWhat is the ‘broken rung’ and how can you navigate it?

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