The leaky pipeline: why fewer women make it to the top

At the outset, Corporate America hires women for more than half of all entry-level professional…

Georgia (May 23, 2013) — At the outset, Corporate America hires women for more than half of all entry-level professional jobs. But over time, these women don’t reach the highest ranks of their companies. Only 28 percent of senior manager jobs are held by women, with 14 percent on executive committees and between 3 to 4 percent in CEO roles, according to a McKinsey & Co. study.


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What’s with the leaky pipeline to the top?

A third of respondents in a recent Atlanta Business Chronicle survey said women tend to choose family over career, and that’s to blame for the lack of women in high-level roles.

But it's vital for companies to realize they're losing a golden opportunity because of this phenomenon. Organizations with more women at the executive levels are more robust, said Rita Izaguirre, principal at employment consultancy IDEAIS LLC and former senior vice president of talent acquisition and diversity at SunTrust Banks Inc. (NYSE: STI).

“As organizations are strapped for talent and in today’s environment have to do more with less talent, women are naturally very good at multi-tasking,” she said.

But, as long as women are child-bearing, there will always be a tradeoff between work and family. How do you make peace with this? Make your career goals known, she said.

“Women have to challenge their organizations and let their bosses know what are their aspirations,” she said. It’s important to openly discuss the role you aspire to in an organization and how your family plans will work within your goals.

Erin Wolf, managing partner of SuiteTrack LLC and executive director of the Women’s Leadership Center in the Michael J. Coles College of Business at Kennesaw State University, agreed.

“There can be an implicit bias in the way companies treat pregnant women or women with kids,” Wolf said. “A lot of the lack in upward mobility has to do with communication issues.”

The most important conversation to have, is the one at home.

“The societal norms of ‘women stay home and men go out and conquer the world’ are entrenched in us from an early age,” she said. “It’s critical to have the conversation at home first, figure out what you want and how you and your partner’s careers can accommodate that."

But it’s not just a one-way street. Izaguirre points out organizations are also seeing more men seek out work-life balance than before.

“Companies need to start realizing it’s not just women in that boat, to retain their top talent,” she said.

Sponsorship was another issue that held women from progressing to the top, according to both experts.

More women at the top should volunteer to be sponsors and mentors, and actively seek out deserving women to lift up, said Izaguirre. Looking for sponsors? Wolf said they don’t have to look like you (i.e. be female) to be a good sponsor.

“Find something in common with someone high up in your organization. Do they like sports? Are they active in the community or interested in the same civic issues as you? Find that connection,” she said.

Wolf found sponsors at her former jobs on Wall Street, as she connected with them on the tennis court.

Taking risks is also key to moving up, she said. Women are more apt to walk away from difficult issues in the business world as they are more risk-averse.

“More women need to think about taking lateral moves in their companies, when it’s the right thing to do. Most often, a career progression is a jungle gym, not a ladder,” she said.

And it’s not just a conversation women need to have. “Women should talk to men to support the shift. Whether it’s your partner or a male boss, men must be part of this conversation too,” Izaguirre said.


A leader in innovative teaching and learning, Kennesaw State University offers undergraduate, graduate and doctoral degrees to its nearly 43,000 students. With 11 colleges on two metro Atlanta campuses, Kennesaw State is a member of the University System of Georgia. The university’s vibrant campus culture, diverse population, strong global ties and entrepreneurial spirit draw students from throughout the country and the world. Kennesaw State is a Carnegie-designated doctoral research institution (R2), placing it among an elite group of only 6 percent of U.S. colleges and universities with an R1 or R2 status. For more information, visit