We analyse how the gender composition of the Board of Directors and of the management affects the hiring and promotion decisions by gender in large private Italian firms. We observe a disproportionate share of men hired and promoted, regardless of the top ranks’ gender composition. A mitigating effect is detected due to the presence of women in higher managerial ranks that increases promotions of women in lower ranks consistently with the “women helping women hypothesis”. However, this mitigating effect is far from rebalancing career chances by gender. No significant differences emerge between firms in innovative and traditional sectors, despite the quite different narrative put in place by HR managers.