What Is the ‘Broken Rung,’ and How Can Companies Fix It? 

by Adrienne Teeley
December 2, 2020

It’s just one promotion. What’s the big deal?

Historically, women getting passed over for promotions early in their careers can translate into a very big deal. When fewer women get promoted to management positions earlier in their careers, it follows that there are fewer women to promote to higher levels of leadership. In other words, being passed over for a couple of early promotions can have a substantial impact on what corporate leadership looks like.

Dubbed the “broken rung,” these lost opportunities for growth have been prevalent in corporate America for years, but companies are taking steps to root out the insidious — and sometimes unconscious — practice. 

Built In Chicago connected with two local leaders to learn about the steps they and their companies are taking to get more women in leadership roles through support groups, training and processes to encourage a more equitable culture from top to bottom.


Rachel Saunders
Principal • PEAK6

What they do: PEAK6 is an investment and fintech firm committed to chasing and supporting ventures that seek to use technology to improve processes and rethink how industries like flood insurance, trading and esports are run.


What programs and policies are you using to ensure that women have an equal chance at climbing the leadership ladder?

I was honored to be nominated by a senior leader at PEAK6 to join the company’s Women’s Leadership Cohort shortly after coming back from parental leave with my second child. The timing ended up being really impactful for me. As a person who is pretty type A, I struggled as I ramped back up after my leave because I wasn’t quite back in my groove yet. 

The cohort created a safe environment where I realized that my colleagues were mentors whom I could turn to for advice and counsel. By working with the coaches, I also became aware of my unique skills and learned how to better leverage my strengths. After a few months in the cohort, I was given an amazing opportunity to take on a role at PEAK6 that would push me outside the skillset I had developed as an attorney. 

I am grateful that the cohort gave me the confidence to take this career leap. I truly felt the cohort was an exceptional company perk that demonstrated how senior leaders are invested in my future from both a personal and professional perspective. 


Poker Powher

Teaching women to play poker is a beloved part of PEAK6’s women’s Powher initiative. By breaking down the male-dominated game, Saunders says the Poker Powher groups aren’t just teaching women to play cards, but are helping players develop confidence, risk-taking and networking. “As a mergers and acquisitions lawyer, I’d spent many years working on negotiations, so I thought I knew a lot about the art of making deals,” Saunders said. “Yet once I started learning how to play, I could immediately see applications that related to my job: when to go all in, when to fold, how to recognize tells.”


Tell us a little more about the Powher initiative and the Women's Leadership Cohort. When were they started and what exactly are these initiatives responsible for at PEAK6?

After examining the employee population and leadership roles, the Women’s Leadership Cohort was developed to offer an established group of tools, resources and coaching for women employees to set them up for success and to help them advance into leadership positions. 

As PEAK6 Co-Founder Jenny Just says, “Things are better when women are involved.” Making the number of women in leadership roles more equitable became an important benchmark as the firm saw a significant increase in women promoted to leadership roles as a result of the Women’s Leadership Cohort. 

The firm saw a significant increase in women promoted to leadership roles as a result of the Women’s Leadership Cohort.” 

How have these programs evolved over time? Where are they headed next?

The Powher initiative grew out of a unique insight by PEAK6 Co-Founder Jenny Just. Why aren’t more women in capital allocator roles? Why aren’t they the corporate decision-makers for how to spend the money and where it goes? While the Powher initiative has many internal opportunities for employee involvement, Poker Powher extends beyond work to give women a chance to sit at the table, where they can learn and practice high-value skills to help them compete and succeed in business, like strategic thinking and decision-making, capital allocation and risk management, computation and negotiation. 

Where’s Poker Powher headed next? Through the growth of networks and clubs of women playing poker everywhere, Poker Powher aims to teach 1 million women how to play poker.


Cassie Hernandez
Director of Finance and Human Resources • UrbanBound

What they do: UrbanBound builds HR software to help companies through the process of relocating employees. The company aims to make relocation benefits easier for companies to manage while increasing employees’ access to resources and tools that make their moves a snap.


How many managers at your company identify as women, and to what extent are you meeting your goals for gender diversity in your management team?

UrbanBound employs a management team of 12 employees, six of whom are women. We focus on a “right person for the right position” approach and actively pursue candidates of all genders with similar qualifications for open positions. We are proud to report that we are currently meeting our gender diversity goals at 100 percent.

We have witnessed more women in management positions at UrbanBound than ever before, with 50 percent of leadership roles occupied by women.”

What programs and policies are you using to ensure that women have an equal chance at getting that first promotion to a management position?

UrbanBound strives to promote from within. We assess career and professional growth by considering achievements and willingness to learn while accepting additional responsibility and challenges. By providing opportunities for career development throughout an employee’s tenure, UrbanBound equips our employees with the tools necessary to be promoted to management positions, regardless of gender.


Describe the results of those policies, and how they have evolved over time.

From our inception, UrbanBound has made a commitment to hire the most capable person for the role at hand, regardless of gender. We have continued to provide additional professional development opportunities for growth to all employees, including varying our offerings and adding more relevant opportunities to align with technology and business advancements. As a direct result, we have witnessed more women in management positions at UrbanBound than ever before, with 50 percent of leadership roles occupied by women.

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