Breaking Down the Myths That Hold Women Back

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Each year, the team at Inforum watches for the release of the McKinsey-Lean In Women in the Workplace reportwhich documents the progress of women in corporate America.

We monitor this closely because our mission is helping women lead and succeed in their careers, and an important part of that work is working with companies to help them fully leverage their talent pipelines. We know that progress is being made because we see it, but we also know there is much yet to do.

The first report, published in 2015, showed that women held 45% of entry-level corporate positions, 37% of managers, 32% of senior managers, 23% of vice presidents, 20% of senior vice presidents and 16% of C-suite positions.

The 2023 report shows significant improvements, but, as the graphic below shows, women continue to lose ground at every level of the career ladder starting with the first promotion to manager—a phenomenon the report has labeled the “broken rung” of the career ladder.


2023 McKinsey bar graph


Men and women start their careers close to parity, with men holding 52% and women 48% of entry-level jobs. At the most senior levels, the contrast is stark. Men hold 72% of the positions while women hold only 28%. Not all women fare equally: The proportion of white women falls 24% from entry-level to C-suite, but the decline for women of color is 67%, a full two-thirds. 

Why is this? There are multiple factors, but the report cites four myths about women at work that stood out in the research for this report. 

Myth: Women are less ambitious.

Reality: Women are more ambitious than before the pandemic—and flexibility is fueling that ambition.

Myth: The biggest barrier to women’s advancement is the “glass ceiling.”

Reality: The “broken rung” is the greatest obstacle women face on the path to senior leadership.

Myth: Microaggressions have a “micro” impact.

Reality: Microaggressions have a large and lasting impact on women, especially women of color who experience them more often.

Myth: It’s more women who want—and benefit from—flexible work.

Reality: Men and women see flexibility as a “top 3” employee benefit and critical to their company’s success. 

We find these themes from McKinsey/Lean In’s deep research to be important, but we also have found that the leaders at the more than 100 companies we work with are deeply engaged and thoughtful about identifying the barriers, knowledge gaps, and opportunities that exist in their work to develop and retain their workforce. 

What we have learned from them includes: 

  • All employees need greater career transparency. What does it take to build a career that can lead to the C-suite?
  • The intellectual case for diverse leadership is important, but it’s not enough. Helping team members make day-to-day productive connections is key.
  • There needs to be advocacy by leaders at all levels and training for all leaders so that good intentions can be backed up with knowledge and strategies. Mid-level managers in particular set the day-to-day tone.

We’re proud of our partnerships with companies that support our vision of a culture that embraces women leading and succeeding. And we are committed to helping companies move from a conversation about why to a call to action about how. 

Written by Lorrena Black, [email protected], vice president of leadership development, and Becky Puckett-Wood, [email protected], vice president of corporate and member engagement for Inforum.


Courtesy of Inforum.

Photos Courtesy of Inforum. 


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