How can the talent pipeline bottleneck be cleared?

Executive Summary

In nearly every industry, women are well represented in management until they approach the senior echelon. At that point, they begin to fall away. When they leave, companies lose the many documented advantages that women possess as leaders and innovators. The absence of senior women exacerbates the gender pay gap and becomes self-perpetuating when rising women see no further upward path for them. Formal corporate initiatives intended to retain women can be undermined by structural and cultural barriers. Some widely held beliefs about why women leave—such as the assumption that family responsibilities derail career ambitions—have been debunked by recent research. As women and companies seek to address these concerns, here are some key takeaways:

  • Research demonstrates that the presence of women in leadership positions correlates with better corporate performance, and investors are taking note.

  • Pay inequity and position inequity are closely related, and greater company transparency can help improve the situation.

  • Sponsorship is a key element in enabling women to climb the corporate ladder.

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Babcock, Linda, and Sara Laschever, “Ask for It: How Women Can Use the Power of Negotiation to Get What They Really Want,” Bantam Books, 2009. An economist (Babcock) and writer (Laschever) discuss negotiation strategies first laid out in their earlier book, “Women Don’t Ask: Negotiation and the Gender Divide,” Princeton University Press, 2003.

Carter, Jessica Faye, “Double Outsiders, How Women of Color Can Succeed in Corporate America,” JIST Works, 2007. A female African-American entrepreneur dissects the assumptions and cultures that create barriers for women of color seeking to rise to corporate leadership positions.

Hirshman, Linda R., “Get to Work … and Get a Life Before It’s Too Late,” Viking, 2007. A lawyer writes an impassioned manifesto on work as the cornerstone of a satisfying and self-sufficient life—and a rationale for not scaling back or stepping out.

Slaughter, Anne-Marie, “Unfinished Business,” Random House, 2015. The CEO of think tank New America and former State Department official builds on her controversial 2012 article in The Atlantic, which argued that it is impossible for professional women to balance work and life successfully.


Lindzon, Jared, “The CEO Gender Gap Is Slowly Closing at Major Public Companies,” Fast Company, Oct. 3, 2016, This article, part of the magazine’s ongoing “Strong Female Lead” series, examines the pace of women’s advancement and finds it implacably glacial.

Miller, Lisa, “Why We Need Older Women in the Workplace,” New York Magazine, Aug. 4, 2015, A middle manager shares her take on the value of mentors and role models.

Mochari, Ilan, “Glass Ceiling Debate: He Said, She Didn’t,” Inc. magazine, May 2014, Female entrepreneurs discover bias where they most—and least—expect it.

Reingold, Jennifer, “Why Top Women are Disappearing from Corporate America,” Fortune, Sept. 9. 2016, A senior editor at the business magazine examines why the number of female CEOs of Fortune 500 companies remains small and some female executives do not get second opportunities.

Reports and Studies

“Barriers and Bias: The Status of Women in Leadership,” American Association of University Women, March 29, 2016, The AAUW has expanded its mission beyond academia to explore root causes of the lack of women in leadership in the workplace.

“Everyday Moments of Truth: Frontline Managers Are Key to Women’s Career Aspirations,” Bain & Co., June 17, 2014, The consulting company delves into the disconnects between leaders’ intentions to advance women and corporate culture and daily decisions that hold women back.

“Forum W Annual Report,” Moss Adams, 2015, A major accounting firm describes its creation of the industry’s format for disclosing how well it is advancing women in leadership.

“Gender Pay Inequality: Consequences for Women, Families and the Economy,” U.S. Joint Economic Committee, April 2016, A bipartisan panel of the U.S. House and Senate studies the entwined economic consequences when women are not paid equitably or lack equitable opportunity for high-paying jobs.

“Pay Equity and Salary Negotiation Resources,” University of Minnesota, Office for Equity and Diversity, 2013, The university provides a list of articles, websites and other resources on pay equity and negotiation.

“Women and Leadership,” Pew Research Center, Jan. 14, 2015, Deep analysis grounded in ongoing research frame this Pew report.

“Women CEOS of the S&P 500,” Catalyst, September 30, 2016, Compiled annually, the Catalyst list and accompanying reports are widely read and extensively quoted.

“Women in Leadership: Why It Matters,” the Rockefeller Foundation, May 12, 2016, The private philanthropy analyzes in multimedia form the cumulative impact of women’s accomplishments and crimped earnings.

Hegewisch, Ariane, and Asha DuMonthier, “The Gender Wage Gap 2015: Annual Earnings Differences by Gender, Race and Ethnicity,” Institute for Women’s Policy Research, September 2016, Researchers examine the gender gap between men’s and women’s annual earnings and conclude it will take another 45 years to reach parity.

The Next Step


Levy, Rachael, “A bunch of men were asked what they think about diversity on corporate boards—the answer won’t surprise you,” Business Insider, Oct. 11, 2016, A majority of men on boards of S&P 500 companies said that women should make up less than 50 percent of public company boards, according to a report from PricewaterhouseCoopers.

Piazza, Jo, “Women of Color Hit a ‘Concrete Ceiling’ in Business,” The Wall Street Journal, Sept. 27, 2016, Although more women of color say they aspire to be top executives, they make up less than 12 percent of first-level managers and 3 percent of the C-suite-level workforce, according to McKinsey & Co.

Winkler, Elizabeth, “The challenges women face in corporate America are curbing their ambitions,” Quartz, Oct. 5, 2016, A recent report from McKinsey & Co. and Sheryl Sandberg’s LeanIn.Org showed that 40 percent of women want senior leadership position in comparison to 56 percent of their male counterparts.


Berthelsen, Christian, and Laura J. Keller, “BofA Settles Gender-Bias Lawsuit With ex-Managing Director,” Bloomberg, Sept. 21, 2016, Bank of America agreed to settle a lawsuit with a former managing director who alleged the company was a “bros club” that favored men.

Simpson, Fraser, “Five more women added in gender discrimination lawsuit against KPMG US,” AccountancyAge, May 16, 2016, Five more women were added to a $350 million class-action gender discrimination lawsuit against KPMG pursued by more than 1,000 current and former employees.

Soergel, Andrew, “Lawsuit Accuses Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer of Discrimination Against Men,” U.S. News and World Report, Oct. 7, 2016, A former male Yahoo employee filed a lawsuit against CEO Marissa Mayer, accusing her of encouraging an employee performance rating system that resulted in the ousting of men.

Pay Gap

Bellstrom, Kristen, “Female MBAs Face a $400,000 Gender Pay Gap,” Fortune, April 1, 2016, Female MBAs typically make about $400,000 less than their male counterparts in the 20 years after their graduation, according to a study.

Crockett, Emily, “Women negotiate for raises as much as men do. They just don’t get them.” Vox, Sept. 29, 2016, Women negotiate for raises and promotions as often as men, but they face a penalty and get denied more frequently, according to a report on women in the workplace.

Weber, Lauren, “Gender Wage Gap Widens at Age 32, Report Finds,” The Wall Street Journal, June 21, 2016, The wage gap begins to widen for women around age 32, an age at which they earn approximately 90 percent of their male counterparts’ incomes, according to a new report. That share declines to 82 percent by age 40, the study found.

STEM Innovation

Oster, Shai, and Selina Wang, “How Women Won a Leading Role in China’s Venture Capital Industry,” Bloomberg, Sept. 19, 2016, A group of women have risen to the top of venture capital companies in China, and the government estimates women have founded 55 percent of new Internet companies in the country.

Staley, Oliver, “What happened when a global software company scoured its salary data for possible gender bias,” Quartz, Oct. 5, 2016, Software company SAP hired a law firm to examine their employees’ pay and discovered that of the 1 percent of workers who were underpaid, 70 percent of those were women.

Zarya, Valentina, “J.P. Morgan Just Made This Woman CIO of Its Corporate and Investment Bank,” Fortune, June 20, 2016, JPMorgan added to the names of women in technology in June when it appointed Lori Beer chief information officer of the company’s corporate and investment bank.


Accounting & Financial Women’s Alliance
2365 Harrodsburg Road, A325, Lexington, KY 40504
A group that sponsors research and networks for women in corporate finance and public accounting, two specialties in which women are under-represented.

Anita Borg Institute
1501 Page Mill Road, MS 1105, Palo Alto, CA 94304
Named for a pioneering female computer engineer, the institute concentrates on research about and for women in high tech, especially in Silicon Valley.

120 Wall St., 15th Floor, New York, NY 10005
212-514 7600
One of the longest-established advocacy and research nonprofits for women, the group is a source of groundbreaking reports.

Center for Women’s Entrepreneurial Leadership
Babson College, 231 Forest St., Babson Park, MA 02457-0310
A Babson-affiliated group that seeks to empower female leaders through educational programs, events and research.

Forte Foundation
9600 Escarpment, Suite 745 PMB 72, Austin, TX 78749
A nonprofit whose mission is to encourage women to pursue masters of business administration degrees and to stay the course when they are in corporate leadership.

Institute for Women’s Policy Research
1200 18th St., N.W., #301, Washington, DC 20036
An institute that focuses on complex research about interrelated topics relating to women’s economic independence; also does in-depth analysis of pay equity trends.

Interorganization Network
1846 Berkshire Road, Columbus, OH 43221
A consortium of regional and industry-focused women’s groups that fosters collaboration on research and programs about women’s status at publicly held companies.

Michigan Council of Women in Technology
6 Parklane Blvd., Suite 615, Dearborn, MI 48126
An organization that connects women in technology across a variety of industries in the STEM-dependent state of Michigan.

National Center for Women & Information Technology
University of Colorado, Campus Box 417 UCB, Boulder, CO 80309
A group that conducts research and constructs advocacy programs for women in IT in tech industries and for women in tech jobs in other industries, such as manufacturing.

Vision 2020
2900 W. Queen Lane, Philadelphia, PA 19129
This Drexel University-sponsored advocacy program seeks to accelerate the advancement of women in corporate and nonprofit leadership.

Women Presidents’ Organization
155 E. 55th St., Suite 4H, New York, NY 10022
A group that facilitates networking among women who own companies or run major divisions of corporations, and the mentoring of rising women.

DOI: 10.1177/237455680221.n1