Only one woman — IBM CEO Ginni Rometty — made the top ten list, and of the 346 executives studied who served as CEO of an S&P 500 company for at least two years, 21 were female.
Disappointing as this may sound, the lack of women at the top is not the biggest issue here — it’s merely a symptom of something far more insidious: unconscious bias against women.
As Anne Marie Slaughter recently told Business Insider, “there are too few women at the top, but way too many at the bottom.”
research by McKinsey & Co. and Lean In found that women are rarely picked to be CEO because, at each step of the way, women are missing out on promotions.
This trend begins right at the very first promotion to the manager level. For every 100 women promoted to manager, the study found 130 men are promoted.
And the disparity compounds from there. With each missed promotion, fewer women end up on the path to CEO.
Compounding is a powerful force. In the finance world, when you start saving money is far more important than how much you save. If you start early, you see greater returns over the long term.
In terms of the corporate pipeline, a few less promotions for women early on at the lower level means a lot less promotions for women further along at the senior level.
And, as we see with compound interest, trying to correct the issue later on results in too little too late.
While championing more female board members, executives, and CEOs is well-intentioned, promoting more women at the top would be like starting to save for your retirement in your 50’s.
To see the greatest returns, you have to start promoting early.
Now, you may say that it’s up to women to put themselves up more for promotions.
The reason women aren’t getting promoted from the bottom ranks isn’t that women aren’t negotiating — in fact, women negotiate for promotions and raises more often than men do.
The hard truth is that, when women negotiate, people like them less for it, and women are getting passed over because they are perceived to be ill-suited for leadership.
“The reason for this pushback lies in many of the unconscious assumptions we all hold about women and men,” Sheryl Sandberg, the chief operating officer of Facebook and the founder of Lean In, wrote for The Wall Street Journal. She said that while men are expected to be “assertive, look out for themselves, and lobby for more,” women are expected to be “communal and collaborative, nurturing and giving, focused on the team and not themselves, lest they be viewed as self-absorbed.”
“At the root of it is unconscious bias,” Lean In president Rachel Thomas told Mic. “Women and men tend to overestimate men and underestimate women. History tells us men are leaders, so people have that expectation.”
If we want to see more women CEOs, we need to stop underestimating women at the lowest levels of the organisation and start betting on them from the get-go.
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