The latest Women in the Workplace report from McKinsey and LeanIn.Org. has some good news on the #EachForEqual theme of International Women’s Day 2020. There are signs the glass ceiling is finally cracking as more women are hired and promoted to the C-suite. 

But many women I talk to every day experience a bigger problem than the glass ceiling – it’s the ‘broken rungs’ further down the career ladder.

According to the report, one of the biggest career obstacles women face is taking their first step up to a management role. For every 100 men promoted and hired to be a manager, only 72 women get the same opportunity, meaning women are more likely to get stuck in entry level roles. 

This early inequality has a long-term impact on the talent pipeline. Men significantly outnumber women at manager level, and the number of women decreases at every subsequent level. As a result, there are simply too few women to advance to the C-suite.

The case for fixing these broken rungs is powerful

To change these numbers, fixing these early ‘broken rungs’ is key to achieving workplace gender equality. And it’s not just ‘the right thing to do’; it brings huge benefits to business as a whole.  

It results in happier employees, higher productivity, is one of the best ways to attract and retain top talent and research by  Accenture found it increased innovation and growth.

Women can fix the broken rungs on the career ladder (Image from Pixabay)

Taking active ownership of your career 

One of the best ways we, as women, can fix these broken rungs is to take active ownership of our careers. ‘Owning’ your career means not waiting to be asked, or relying on anyone else. Instead, you create a career plan where you’ll develop a rounded and distinctive blend of skills. 

Here are three practical steps to help you ‘own’ your career:

1. Plan for a jungle gym career path rather than a ladder 

We tend to see success as climbing the career ladder – fast. But many women don’t have linear careers. The straightforward trajectory of starting work in your twenties, reaching your career peak in your forties and sauntering along to retirement at 65 frequently doesn’t work for women. 

Women’s career climbs can instead see sideways moves, plateaus and maybe even dips. You might have perfectly good reasons for turning down a promotion or stepping off the conventional career path for a while. 

And, that’s ok – why should we waste our time and energy trying to make ourselves fit an outdated male model of success?

But – don’t leave it to chance. A robust career plan gives you the confidence to take brave decisions and calculated risks. That way, you can evaluate the costs and benefits of various options and remain open to unexpected opportunities or life events. If you do decide to take a career break, you can keep a foot in the door and maintain your professional network. You’ll have the tools to navigate the challenge of returning to work or re-igniting your glittering career in the future.

Creating a strong personal brand online is vital (Image by Pixabay)

2. Be your own cheerleader 

Building a strong personal brand and visibility in your chosen field is hugely important. Networking, public speaking and investing in a social media presence are all great ways to make connections and boost your skills. You’ll also discover new opportunities – not just external job vacancies but also internal promotions or high-profile industry projects to get involved in. 

All these experiences contribute to a compelling CV. One that is achievement focussed and clear on the skills, experiences and benefits you bring to the table. And, don’t forget to keep your LinkedIn profile dynamic and up-to-date: with over 660 million users worldwide, it’s the leading professional networking and personal branding platform.

We women need to recognise our own worth (Image by Pixabay)

3. Demand equal pay 

So many women feel awkward talking about money. The latest stats show that 59% of working women have never asked for a pay rise, compared to 42% of men. What’s worse is that 58% of women say they haven’t asked because they’re worried about their boss’s reaction.

There’s still an unconscious bias that women asking for a pay rise are seen as ‘pushy’, whereas men are simply ‘assertive’. But it’s time for us all to step up and get the pay rise we deserve. 

The key to successful pay negotiation is to be in a position of strength. That starts with doing your research. Identify your target salary range, and other benefits, from competitors’ job adverts and use an online salary checker. 

Prepare your case before meeting your line manager. Gather figures, evidence and examples that demonstrate how you’ve gone above and beyond in your role and how you add value to the business.   

Once you’ve presented your case calmly, sit back and let your boss do the talking. Finally, ask for everything you’ve negotiated to be confirmed in writing.

I’ve no doubt the fight for workplace gender equality will continue. There’s still huge amounts companies need to do to embed family-friendly flexible working, and unbiased hiring, promotion and equal pay policies.

But, as women, we also need to know our own worth. You have every right to have the confidence to take control of your career.  So go get those pay rises and promotions you deserve. #EachForEqual