How to defrost a frozen middle

How can women break through middle management to reach senior roles?

The day-to-day duties of a middle manager vary based on the industry, but the essential purpose is to supervise workers and implement the company vision from upper management. These core responsibilities are vital for company progress, and without them, progress comes to a halt. When this happens, it’s often the result of the frozen middle.

The frozen middle is often the result of poor communication from the top down, exclusion from executive levels, and flawed directives. Those stuck in the frozen middle might even push back or refuse to enact direction from executives. Though these situations exist in the corporate world, for most companies, unproductive middle management is less of a staffing problem and more of an organizational communication difficulty. This “communication problem” has led to many middle managers to consider moving to a different company. 

Middle managers can often feel stuck, underappreciated, overworked, and overlooked. Long hours and large personal sacrifices typical of a middle management position only add to the discontent. And no where is that more evident than with middle managers who are women. Research from McKinsey & Company in partnership with The Wall Street Journal Task Force in the Economy, reveals that “many women opt into staff roles, get stuck in middle management, or leave without ever having given their companies a chance to address their concerns.” 


The Frozen Middle is Even Colder for Women Managers


So why would so many women managers choose to find other employment rather than communicate with their company? First, while many companies proclaim a need for gender diversity, women make up only 14 percent of Executive Officers at Fortune 500 companies and less than 4 percent of CEOs. With such a grim career outlook for ambitious women, it’s no wonder many choose to simply move on. But even within companies that take action to promote gender diversity, there’s still a communication problem that still makes that diversity an uphill battle.   

Women are aware of their position as a woman in a predominantly masculine business environment. They often feel excluded but aren’t inclined to adopt the traditional male approach to business such as self-promotion and aggressive tactics. This inclination means that women typically don’t participate in important work-related communication and relationships that happen outside the workplace. Unfortunately, whether consciously or unconsciously, the “boys’ club” in business environments is still a barrier to communication and gender diversity. 

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Many women don’t feel comfortable building relationships for the sole purpose of personal gain. They prefer that relationships develop more naturally, and more genuinely. It’s not that women aren’t ambitious, but without strong business networks, it can be difficult for them to succeed on merit alone. Women are more reluctant than men to put their name in the hat for leadership roles because there is still a deep bias against women in leadership roles. Unfortunately, the lack of gender diversity in business continues because of traditional business environments and the different approaches to business communication and relationships between men and women.

In a perfect world, companies would use good business sense and create conditions in which women can thrive professionally. But even at a time when studies show that women in decision-making roles generate higher returns and superior sales growth compared to their male counterparts, the gender gap still means a lack of women in key business positions. Until companies adopt gender diversity as a core component of their culture and tear down the traditional barriers, women will continue to struggle for promotions they deserve.  

If you are in middle management and notice that your company is starting to freeze in the middle, there are many approaches to fix this communication issue. Easy adjustments like introducing a platform for feedback or investigating communication gaps could help you defrost the frozen middle and reach new heights in your company.


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