Post Pandemic: We’re Losing Women Before They Can Reach Executive Status

The Pyramid You Should See in 2022

Before we dive into my viewpoint, here are 5 facts that you should know if you’re interested in gender equality and empowered economics for women.

  1. Women are 51.1% of the total US population.
  2. Women earn well over half of all undergraduate degrees (57.7%), and the majority of master’s degrees (61.4%). Women also hold most doctorates (55.2%). This trend is consistent across racial groups as women hold more of the higher education degrees.
  3. Now- check this out: women account for just 36 percent of first-level managers. That was improving pre-pandemic, but post pandemic that’s declining – 38% of entry level managers are women in 2020 compared to 36% in 2022. (Before you say – “well, women are self selecting out of corporate for personal reasons”- read my blurb below).
  4. Women hold only 32% of VP roles in the US (while white men alone hold 54% of VP roles across US companies of all sizes.)
  5. 9% of Fortune 500 CEO roles in the US are held by women (only 6 of them are black women)

Here’s a graphic outlining this visually:

The Director and VP levels in large companies are is generally the level where one is responsible for profit & loss, which statistics show set someone on an executive track to CEO. This is a critical point in the talent pipeline that we are seeing women leave corporate in record numbers.

Although we saw great improvements prior to and during the start of the pandemic, we are seeing the pace of women moving up in corporate slow down compared with men around the mid levels – specifically Director to VP levels. The levels of female VPs dropped year on year significantly from 2021 to 2022.

Is this a result of motivation or self-selection? No. Women are twice as likely as men to want to be promoted and aspire to senior-level roles. But for every woman at the Director level who gets promoted to the next level, two women Directors are leaving.

The gap we need to look at is the decline in women moving up in leadership specifically at the Director or equivalent level (depending on org) as this is the leaky part of the talent pipeline – and one that has the largest impact of women gaining opportunities to run their own P&Ls and doing that successfully. We must support and equip women to be successful at the Director levels, and promote them to roles being solely responsible for business units, oftentimes a VP title, if we are to repair the leaky pipe now and prevent long term damage to the opportunity of gender equality of people running companies at the top.

In short, women are leaving corporate before they have a chance to really get their hands on and succeed at running their own business unit- which typically puts someone on the executive track.

Yes there should be more representation at the C-level, but before women can rise to that level in volume, we need to repair this leak, and overcorrect it at the mid levels. If we cannot repair this leak then the future opportunities for gender equality at the top is looking bleak.

What’s your view of this problem?


Note: Titles are based on a leveled system, and VP is generally defined by managing a business unit, or owning a P&L.

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