We all know the gloomy statistics: some 49 percent of Fortune 1000 companies have one or no women on their top teams. The same is true for 45 percent of boards. Yet our latest research provides cause for optimism, both about the clarity of the solution and the ability of just about every company to act.

Almost two years ago, when we last wrote in McKinsey Quarterly about the obstacles facing women on the way to the C-suite, we said our ideas for making progress were “directional, not definitive.”1 Since then, we’ve collaborated with McKinsey colleagues to build a global fact base about the gender-diversity practices of major companies, as well as the composition of boards, executive committees, and talent pipelines.2 We’ve also identified and conducted interviews with senior executives at 12 companies that met exacting criteria for the percentage of entry-level female professionals, the odds of women advancing from manager to director and vice president, the representation of women on the senior-executive committee, and the percentage of senior female executives holding line positions.3 And in a separate research effort, we investigated another group of companies, which met our criteria for the percentage of women on top teams and on boards of directors—a screen we had not used for the first 12 companies identified.4

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