The Broken Rung: Gender and the Leadership Gap


Addressing female underrepresentation in leadership positions has become a key policy objective. However, little is known about the extent to which the leadership ladder appeals differently to women relative to men. Collecting new data from a large multinational firm, I document the existence of a broken rung: women at lower hierarchy levels are 27% less likely to apply for early-career promotions. Both realized application patterns and large-scale surveys at the firm reveal the role of an understudied feature of promotions—having to assume responsibility over a team—which is less appealing to women. This gap is not accounted for by standard explanations, such as family constraints, risk preferences, confidence, or differences in perceived success likelihood. Instead, my findings suggest that organizations can increase female applications by providing more information about what team leadership entails.