Somewhere during their careers, women in corporate America get off the path to senior leadership, but the detour is not always lined with baby strollers and family commitments.
The dearth of women in the C-suite stems from a confluence of complex office dynamics that pose barriers to advancement despite company commitments to gender equality, according to a recent report.
One barrier to reaching the top: Fewer women than men reach for it.
Women at every level are less eager than men to become a top executive, and are more likely to cite "stress/pressure" as their biggest issue, said the report from management consulting firm McKinsey and LeanIn.org, the nonprofit founded by Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg to encourage women to achieve their ambitions. The report studied nearly 30,000 employees at 118 companies.
That's true for women with or without children, suggesting it isn't just about balancing work with family but rather that women face a more stressful climb than men to an executive-level post.
Women are almost four times more likely than men to think they have fewer opportunities to advance because of their gender. And while three-quarters of companies report that their CEO is highly committed to gender diversity, less than half of employees think so, and one-third see it as a priority of their direct manager.
Misalignment between company efforts and employee perceptions also keeps people from using programs to encourage flexibility. More than 90 percent of men and women believe taking extended family leave will hurt their position at work, the study found.
The types of positions women take as they advance in their careers also might disadvantage them as they proceed through the pipeline. Most women at the manager level hold line roles, which are positions with profit-and-loss responsibilities and tend to prepare people for C-suite posts, but by the time they reach vice president level more than half hold staff roles in departments that support the company, like human resources, IT and legal. In contrast, the majority of men hold line roles at every level.
That imbalance influences the advancement of employees at the lower level. Men predominantly have male networks, and women have mostly female or mixed-gender networks, so women may end up with less access to senior leaders who will help them rise.
Family commitments do play some role. Women are still more likely than men to shoulder most of the burden of child care and household chores.
But it doesn't seem to be driving them away from the companies. Women leave their organizations at the same rate as men. Women in leadership positions leave at lower rates than men.