There are bridges in need of fixing in order to get women more into top corporate roles. (Credit: Nenad Stojkovic, Flickr)

Women’s pathways to leadership positions worldwide are riddled with holes.

That’s according to new research conducted by tech giant IBM and women’s leadership network Chief, which examines how the corporate world loses scores of women en route to the C-suite

Researchers polled 2,500 organizations in 10 industries and based in 12 different countries across the globe. While improvement has been seen on the top tiers of these companies – women hold 12% of leadership and board members positions – representation below them has yet to reach pre-pandemic levels. Women now occupy 14% of senior vice president roles and 16% of vice president roles – prior to Covid, they accounted for 18% and 19%, respectively.

And perhaps most worrying of all: 45% – less than half – of companies involved in the study even cited improving representation as a priority. A startling statistic, as “women are significantly underrepresented at nearly every level of the workforce,” Lindsay Kaplan, the co-founder and chief brand officer of Chief, says in a press release on the study. 

According to those involved with the study, a mix of unconscious biases and persistent systemic barriers are to blame for the lack of advancement. For example, 60% of male respondents to the study admitted they don’t think women with children are as dedicated to their jobs as those without.

To fix this, researchers propose several measures, including assessing women’s professional achievements by looking at the results they produce – for example, observable economic gains for their company – and getting specific when setting gender parity goals, in lieu of nebulous promises to improve.

“Structural changes – including reimagining leadership tracks and role descriptions – improving pay transparency and setting representation goals can [also] open new pathways for women to progress to more senior roles,” notes Salima Lin, a senior partner and vice president at IBM.

In addition to creating better pathways for working women, such measures will ultimately benefit the companies themselves, says IBM Consulting senior vice president and COO Kelly Chambliss. “Enabling equity and inclusion gives organizations a competitive edge, yet many companies do not act as if their success depends on it.”

Adds Kaplan, “If companies prioritize gender diversity across their entire organizations through policies, investments, and a culture that meaningfully supports women, we’ll see a transformative impact — equity for everyone in the workplace and stronger, more resilient businesses.”