Gender diversity and inclusion has become a well-known necessity for business success; however, a leaky corporate pipeline for women persists, according to a recent report from The Center for Women and Business at Bentley University. The term “leaky” refers to the way women disappear from career and leadership trajectories at all stages of professional life, a press release noted.

Even though the gender gap is now a widely discussed topic in business, women continue to get left behind at every step–from entry level positions to early management opportunities, the report found. The research surveyed 185 studies to assess the current state of women in business, revealing that the leaky pipeline is even worse for women of color.

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This leaky pipeline is a result of many factors, all of which place women at a disadvantage compared to their male coworkers. Despite reporting similar experience levels and occupying the same positions, entry-level women make 20% less money than their male peers, the report found, and they are 21% less likely than their male counterparts to reach the first level of management.

Family responsibilities also play a major role in the leaky pipeline, as these typically fall on women and impact their progress mid-career, the report found. Because of familial obligations, women are often moved into support roles, instead of considered for top management positions.

Systemic problems continue to pervade in the workplace as well, with unconscious bias and micro-inequities halting the progression of women’s’ careers. Female employees also don’t have the same access to career-building relationships as men do, the report found.

Businesses have a long way to go in achieving inclusion and gender equality. The report found the following four initiatives companies can undertake to improve working conditions for women:

1. Culture and leadership: Encourage diverse leadership styles, establish a business case for diversity that supports the company’s goals, and address unconscious bias through formal training programs. Engage men in gender diversity initiatives.

2. Metrics: Harness the right metrics by ensuring your CEO, other top leaders and frontline managers are involved in the metrics process. Establish clear, understandable, actionable metrics around the following five dynamics: recruitment, retention, advancement, representation and pay.

3. People programs and processes: Train and support frontline managers and hold them accountable for diversity and inclusion goals. Consider workplace flexibility to support work-life balance and support caregivers. Offer gender-specific leadership training. Implement effective hiring and promotion techniques such as assembling a diverse applicant pool, blind assessments, diverse interviewers, pay equity, and pro-diversity language in job postings.

4. Game-changing relationships: Provide mentors and sponsors for women and other underrepresented groups. Train senior people in allyship, micro-inequities, the importance of trust and the role they need to play. Establish and support Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) to help foster professional development, encourage a more inclusive overall environment and provide a “safe zone” for employees.

The big takeaways for tech leaders:

  • Women are victims of a leaky pipeline that slows or halts their career progression. — Bentley University, 2018
  • Companies can improve working conditions for women by creating a better culture, assessing metrics, forming training programs, and forging mentor relationships. — Bentley University, 2018