The Missing Rung, the Problem With Interim Roles, and Other Actions for Allies

Each week, we share five simple actions to create a more inclusive workplace and be a better ally.

Two wooden ladders leaning against a cement wall, with brick walls and plants to each side
Two wooden ladders leaning against a cement wall, with brick walls and plants to each side
Photo by Biao Xie on Unsplash

1. Address the missing rung

New research from Lean In and McKinsey uncovered a “missing rung” on the career ladder: the initial promotion from individual contributor to manager. For every 100 men promoted or hired into their first management position, only 72 women make that same step. But wait…it gets worse. This number is 68 for Latinx women and 58 for Black women.

Ask about your organization’s demographics. What is the gender ratio of people in individual contributor roles compared to that of first-level managers? If it’s not the same, here are some ideas from Alexis Krivkovich, a McKinsey senior partner and co-founder of the report:

  1. Give these roles greater attention by setting targets for the number of women in first-level management.
  2. Require diverse slates of candidates for hires and promotions at the early manager level.
  3. Establish clear evaluation criteria before the review processes so employees and managers have a concrete idea of what it takes to get that promotion.

Now, think about which action(s) you will take to address the missing rung. Here’s just one idea: bring up this research and those three suggestions at your next all-hands meeting.

2. Track who’s put in interim roles

An interim or acting role is often code for “they’re not quite ready” or “they need to prove themselves first.” If your organization uses interim roles, at the first-level management level or higher up, track the demographics of who gets put in them. And, point out if they tend to be people from underrepresented groups.

There’s such a thing as “prove it again bias,” where women especially are caught on a treadmill having to prove over and over again that they’re ready for some expanded responsibility. By contrast, men often get promoted on their potential.

3. Evaluate job seekers on their inclusion experience

If you’re trying to build a more inclusive environment, “it helps to stop letting in folks who would work against that goal,” says diversity and inclusion consultant Jason Wong on his blog. This means screening for inclusive attitudes and experiences during the interview process.

One simple way to do this is to ask candidates about their inclusion experience. Here are a few suggested questions:

  • How have you contributed to a diverse and inclusive workplace culture?
  • Tell me about your experience working with a diverse team.
  • What have you done to ensure co-workers feel a sense of belonging?
  • How have you acted as an ally?

By opening the door to this topic during the interview, we bet you’ll be able to spot people who both talk the inclusion talk and walk the inclusion walk.

4. Give constructive feedback to all

I give constructive feedback to my staff & co-workers. After all, it’s feedback that helps build our careers, giving us guidance on where to improve, new skills we can learn, and how we can have a bigger impact on the business.

Yet, new research shows that many women don’t get those frank assessments at all. When Professor Shelley Correll and her researchers at Stanford studied performance reviews inside a large tech company, they found that “60% of developmental feedback linked to business outcomes was given to men; only 40% was given to women.”

Let’s step up our ally game, and give constructive, career-building feedback equally both in written reviews and in more casual conversations.

5. Use a woman’s hard-earned honorifics

Do you use professional titles when addressing women? As Dr. Blackstock pointed out recently on Twitter:

“Let me be clear when women physicians & esp Black women, speak up about not being addressed by our title, it has nothing to do with reinforcing any hierarchy. It has everything to do with our accomplishments being delegitimized within a system that has intentionally excluded us.”

Being an ally is a journey. Want to join us?

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✉️ This content originally appeared in our newsletter, 5 Ally Actions. Subscribe to get it delivered to your inbox every Friday.

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Everyday actions to create inclusive, engaging workplaces. Together, we can — and will — make a difference with the Better Allies® approach.

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