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Definition

leaky pipeline

Contributor(s): Ivy Wigmore

A leaky pipeline is a system designed to channel something from one place to another that is flawed in such a way that it loses some quantity of what it carries before it reaches the destination.

Leaky pipeline is often used as a metaphorical reference to the way that members of certain demographics fail to continue progression towards particular careers, leading to underrepresentation in related industries. Women, for example, discontinue education and career paths in the STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) fields at a much higher rate than men. As a result, there are many fewer women than men in STEM-related careers, especially in high-level positions.

Leaky pipelines make it hard for organizations to promote workforce diversity and can create problems in recruitment, hiring and human resource management (HRM). Public relations (PR) can also be affected, as it may be assumed that fewer women or minorities at a company reflects hiring bias.

Efforts to overcome the leaky pipeline effect typically focus on education and culture change. In software development, for example, efforts might involve creating educational opportunities that appeal to women and creating a workplace culture that is more welcoming to them than the stereotypically male-dominated environment. (See also: brogrammer)

This was last updated in March 2018

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