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Career ladder

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

A career ladder or corporate ladder is a metaphor for job promotion. In business and human resources management, the career ladder typically describes the progression from entry level positions to higher levels of pay, skill, responsibility, or authority. This metaphor is spatially oriented, and frequently used to denote upward mobility within a stratified promotion model. Because the career ladder does not provide for lateral movement, it is assumed to be a singular track with the greatest benefits at the top.

Job training programs, funded by public sector workforce funds and private foundations, have made attempts to increase the number of career ladders in various sectors, including health care, finance, and hospitality. The Annie E. Casey Foundation, Rockefeller Foundation, and several other foundations funded a series of studies and pilot projects in the early 2000s to expand and build a network of career ladders and mobility for workers through skills training and the use of workforce intermediaries, as described by Robert Giloth.[1]

The California state Employment Development Department (EDD) also in the early 2000s funded a series of career ladder programs, spearheaded by then director Michael Bernick. The programs sought to improve mobility and income of low wage workforces in California. EDD worked with several industry associations in long-term care, hospitality, and even farm work. The career ladder programs had very mixed results.[2]

Contrast to "bridge"[edit]

In this usage, the spatial metaphor of "bridge" would describe lateral promotion or entry. A bridged system would more closely resemble a fraternal organizational style, where members of the family are directly offered highly ranked positions. Another example is celebrities being directly elected among the public to political positions.[3]

Dual career ladder[edit]

This extension to the traditional career ladder allows employees to be promoted along either a supervisory or technical track. Dual career ladder programs are common in the engineering, scientific and medical industries where valuable employees have particular technical skills but may not be inclined to pursue a management career path.[4] When properly managed,[5] these programs can help companies retain top talent by offering extended career opportunities while allowing employees to remain in their chosen careers and continue to receive salary increases.[6]

Broken rung[edit]

In 2023, Forbes writer and author Christine Michel Carter researched the long-term career impact of women not being promoted from entry-level to management positions.[7] Carter said the long-term career impact of missing the promotion opportunity is the "broken rung," a metaphor referencing a missed rung or step on a ladder. The "broken rung" is the biggest obstacle keeping women from advancing in their careers.[8]

Gift exchange[edit]

Nobel laureate George Akerlof argued that promotion ladder provides a mechanism whereby a gift exchange occurs between an employer and his workers: a firm pays its workers salaries which are higher than the market-clearing level, and the workers increase levels of productivity for their company. This is especially true for a bureaucracy where officials are loyal to the operation of their firm and exercise an impersonal discipline in return for their promotion ladder.[9]


  1. ^ Giloth, Robert (2003). Workforce Intermediaries: For the 21st Century. Temple University Press. ISBN 978-1-59213-204-1.
  2. ^ Bernick, Michael (2005). Job Training That Gets Results: Ten Principles of Effective Employment Programs. W.E. Upjohn Institute.
  3. ^ Reichley, James (1987) Celebrity Politicians Elections American style]. Brookings Institution Press. p. 83. ISBN 978-0-8157-7381-8
  4. ^ Allen, Thomas J.; Katz, Ralph (1986). "The dual ladder: Motivational solution or managerial delusion?". R&D Management. 16 (2): 185–197. doi:10.1111/j.1467-9310.1986.tb01171.x. hdl:1721.1/2117.
  5. ^ Hoffmann, Patrick; Hoegl, Martin; Muethel, Miriam; Weiss, Matthias (2016). "A contemporary justice perspective on dual ladders for R&D professionals". Journal of Product Innovation Management. 33 (5): 589–612. doi:10.1111/jpim.12310.
  6. ^ LaMont, Rick, Understanding the dual ladder, Computer Science Salary Range, archived from the original on 11 August 2013, retrieved 12 July 2013
  7. ^ Carter, Christine Michel. "Three Mom Executives Share How They Surpassed The 'Broken Rung'". Forbes. Retrieved 2023-06-21.
  8. ^ "Women in the Workplace | McKinsey". www.mckinsey.com. Retrieved 2023-06-21.
  9. ^ Akerlof, G. A. (1984). "Gift Exchange and Efficiency-Wage Theory: Four Views". The American Economic Review. 74 (2): 79–83. JSTOR 1816334. S2CID 153023298.