Advancing to the C-Suite: The Most Damning Number

by Julie Graber | on 5 Aug 2019

My good friend Eleanor has always said that instead of talking about the low number of women in leadership roles, we should talk about the large numbers of men in most categories. She believes that those numbers, more than any others, drive home the fact that men are over-represented in all types of leadership positions.

The power of that suggestion finally dawned on me when I noticed something in the McKinsey/Lean In Women in the Workplace report (2018). I have to confess that I’ve looked at this pipeline hundreds of times, using the stats to drive home how women’s representation declines as they move thru the pipeline, from 48% of entry-level professionals to only 22% of C-suite executives.

For whatever reason, (embarrassing as it is to admit), I just recently noticed the most damning number:

White men start out as 36% of entry level professionals but make up 68% of the C-suite executives.

Let me repeat:

White men start out as 36% of entry level professionals but make up 68% of the C-suite executives. Unlike any other category, as they move up the ladder, their rate of representation increases.

This illustration from the 2017 Women in the Workplace report (so the numbers are slightly different) shows each pipeline individually. Note: reading left to right, “1” is entry level, manager, sr. manager/director, VP, SVP, “6” is C-suite.


Notice the differences in the shapes for each pipeline graphic. Only one gets bigger as you move from entry level through to the C-suite: the one for white men. Men of color get a little bump between the SVP level and the C-suite but that’s the only exception.

Using the percentages on a hypothetical pool of 100 entry-level hires, here’s what happens over the course of their careers:


Who Reaches the Top?

I see this pattern repeated time and time again as I look at gender diversity numbers for corporate boards and senior executives. Women (and minorities) don’t make it to the top, while white men do, nearly double their rate of representation as they move up the ladder.

That’s what makes 68% the most damning number.

Tags:  By The Numbers