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Women Experience Inequities at Every Career Stage, Even After Decades of Well-Intentioned Efforts

Catalyst’s latest global report on MBA graduates shows that women lag behind men right from the first job

Women lag behind men in both job level and salary starting from their first position post-business school and do not catch up, according to Catalyst’s Pipeline’s Broken Promise, the latest report examining high potential graduates from top business schools around the world. The study, released today, reveals that the assertion that women advance in compensation and level at the same pace as men is overstated and, in many cases, completely wrong.

The report, part of a broad, ongoing study of thousands of women and men MBA alumni in the United States, Canada, Europe, and Asia, provides a global analysis of the pace of progress for these high potential employees. Even after taking into account experience, industry, and region, the report found women start at lower levels than men, make on average $4,600 less in their initial jobs, and continue to be outpaced by men in rank and salary growth. Only when women begin their post-MBA career at mid-management or above do they achieve parity in position with men. However, this accounts for only 10 percent of the women and 19 percent of the men surveyed.

“ ‘Give it time,’ has run its course,” said Ilene H. Lang, President & Chief Executive Officer, Catalyst. “In a world where women comprise 40 percent of the global workforce and are earning advanced and professional degrees in record numbers—even surpassing men in many cases—gender inequity is a waste. Companies without parity for women at all levels are unsustainable. Smart leaders will act now or risk falling behind.”

Men, the report showed, were twice as likely as women to hold CEO or senior executive positions and less likely to be at lower levels, where women were overrepresented. Parenthood and level of aspiration did not explain the results. The findings held when considering women and men without children as well as those who aspired to senior leadership positions. Men, in general, were also found to be more satisfied with their careers overall than women. Thus, despite well—intentioned programs, companies around the globe have neglected to develop talented women and failed to build meritocracies.

CEOs and executives from major companies offered insights and suggestions on the study’s findings throughout the report. Some of these include:

  • Don’t assume that the playing field has been leveled. 
  • Redesign systems to correct early inequities.
  • Collect and review salary growth metrics.
  • Build in checks and balances against unconscious bias.
  • Make assignments based on qualifications, not presumptions.

Sponsors of Pipeline’s Broken Promise include American Express Company at the President’s Circle level; Barclays Capital at the Executive Circle level; and at the Mentor Circle level Chevron Corporation, Credit Suisse Group, General Motors Company, The Procter & Gamble Company, and Scotiabank. For more information on this and other Catalyst research, please visit our website at For media inquiries, please contact Susan Nierenberg, [email protected], 646-388-7744; Serena Fong, [email protected], 646-388-7757; or Jeff Barth, [email protected], 646-388-7725.

This research is part of The Promise of Future Leadership: A Research Program on Highly Talented Employees in the Pipeline, a longitudinal study on high potential talent. Between Fall 2007 and Spring 2008, Catalyst conducted an online survey of alumni who graduated between 1996 and 2007 from MBA programs at 26 leading business schools in Asia, Canada, Europe, and the United States. Report findings draw from the 4,143 respondents who completed full-time MBA programs and worked full-time in companies or firms at the time of the survey.

Founded in 1962, Catalyst is the leading nonprofit membership organization working globally with businesses and the professions to build inclusive workplaces and expand opportunities for women and business. With offices in the United States, Canada, and Europe, and more than 400 preeminent corporations as members, Catalyst is the trusted resource for research, information, and advice about women at work. Catalyst annually honors exemplary organizational initiatives that promote women’s advancement with the Catalyst Award.