Friday, December 11, 2009

Is There Really a Glass Ceiling?

In recent weeks there has been a lot of discussion in the news on how well (or not so well) Corporate America is doing in shattering the glass ceiling. More importantly, some have suggested that there is no glass ceiling (Rachel Wood on the Glass Ceiling Myth), that we would be better off if we just didn’t talk about it (Ariane de Bonvoisin speaking at the Villanova Women in Business Conference), or that women just need to wake up and recognize that the world has changed (David Carter for the Badger Herald).

Others still believe that we must acknowledge the glass ceiling (Professor Sheila Wellington speaking at NYU Stern School of Business).

To be clear, let me define the term ‘glass ceiling’. I am referring to an artificial barrier that prevents qualified women from attaining top corporate jobs.

We start with a level playing field – I am going to go out on a limb and state up front that women are as intelligent as men (yup, I’m declaring that as a fact).

Let’s look at the scorecard:

• Women hold the top job in only 15 Fortune 500 companies (that’s 3%). There are some fantastic success stories of women CEO’s. Indra Nooyi, CEO of PepsiCo tops this year’s list of the 50 most powerful women in business. Oprah Winfrey (Harpo), Anne Mulcahy (Xerox), and Andrea Jung (Avon) have made consistent annual appearances on this list, to name just a few. There are also women who have disappeared from the list. Was Carly Fiorina held to a different standard than her male peers when she was ousted from Hewlett-Packard? Did Meg Whitman (eBay) leave Corporate America too soon?

• Men outnumber women 7 to 1 on Fortune’s list of 40 under 40 (years old). This does not bode well for the pipeline to replace the current women CEOs as they retire.

• A number of states have recently taken a look at their local scorecards. A UC Davis Study showed that women hold only 10% of the executive and board seats in the state’s top 400 publicly traded firms. The Chicago Tribune reported that fewer than 15% of the executive officers in that city’s businesses are female. And in Massachusetts, BU Today reported that women represent less than 9% of the executives in the state’s largest 100 firms.

Dare I mention that while some women are achieving positive success in Corporate America, there are also those who are becoming notorious via corporate crime? The women are under-represented here too, but let’s call that a good thing.

And I would be remiss if I didn’t also acknowledge that women can be brutal to their own kind. I have seen too many women near the top who want to be the only woman in the room, sometimes actively working against their female peers.

Now that we’ve looked at the facts…

Is the glass ceiling a figment of our imagination? There is no doubt in my mind that the ‘system’ of Corporate America has not yet adapted sufficiently to be fully inclusive of women.

Are women causing the problem? No, but women are contributing to it, both in attitude and in acceptance.

Should we stop talking about it? Absolutely not! We need to be aware to actively drive change.

Will be do better in the next decade? Let’s make it a point to do so.

Your turn – what do you think?


Casey Dawes said...

Good post! Funny...I just wrote a blog on the variation of the theme. ( )

I think it's time that we talked about how things really are, not just wishful thinking.

Colette said...

Casey, I agree! Your post is great -- we need to embrace our differences.

Peggy said...

Collette, you bring up very thought provoking topics. I have two opinions without research data to back it up, but motherhood does impact careers, and I look at that as a good thing. It means mothers are taking their role as mother seriously and sacrificing their career for their more important vocation of being a mother, otherwise why be a mother in the first place.
Secondly, when women start their own businesses and grow those business they will be at the top of the totem pole, and they will be passionate about their 'job' because it was something they started, nurtured, and grew. To be at the top of Corporate America usually means you became passionate about somebody else's business.

Colette said...

Peggy, you raise a good point about working mothers -- many of us have scaled back on how aggressively we pursue our careers when we have a family.

Your point about passion is so true -- I hadn't thought of it that way!

Anon_e_mouse said...

Interesting column as always, Colette. My thoughts today pertain more to Peggy's comments than your column, though. Peggy, it's nice to know that my wife and I are not the only ones who feel as you do about women taking their role as a mother seriously. My wife followed the traditional path of a rural woman in the '60s - graduated from high school, married, had a child, and in her case got divorced, met Mr. Wonderful (me), got married again, and had three more children. When we married, though, there was never any question about what she would do: she quit her job as an apartment manager and stayed home to be a full-time mother, as she had always wanted to do. I was the breadwinner, and although we always partnered in raising our four children, she was clearly the one in charge. There is no question in my mind that she had a career. No, it may not have brought in a paycheck, but managing our brood was unquestionably a full-time job, and anyone who tries to tell her that "you didn't work" will get THE LOOK and wither on the spot :-) Even now, with all four grown, she is still there for them when they need her... as our older son put it in a blog post a couple of months ago, she is the "eternal mother". Right now it's our older daughter who made the call, so Mom's in Arizona on grandma duty for a month. Retire? No, she never will.

Anonymous said...

Yeah you just gotta look at the facts sometimes. Women get pregnant and are just not very pragmatic all the time. Others like yourself would also like to see women do nearly as well as men in creating companies and keeping them going but it just hasn't happened.

Colette said...

The balancing act that women have with children and work is definitely a big contributing factor. I get it -- and while I never did the fulltime Mom thing -- I definitely scaled back for many years. Which begs the next question -- what about when these women are ready to get back in the game? And then there are the many women who chose not to have children -- who still bump up against that glass.

Peggy said...

Hi all, thanks for the wonderful thoughts. I can tell you from personal experience that when women want to get back in the game the opportunities are few and far between. I was a single parent for many years. I worked, but made my family my priority for all of their pre-college years. When I was 40, and had a good 25 year career left ahead of me I was ready to dedicate myself to my work when the kids went off to college. Nothing happened with my career UNTIL I starting making a point of discussing the exact situation (being 40, not getting the star tacked on my forehead at 25, and being ready to do whatever it took). I am not close to being a CEO or in the corporate office, but my career definitely opened up after having those blunt discussions will all my mgrs since it dawned on me to do so.

Peggy said...

One more comment to Anon_e_mous. Thank you for your wonderful post. It is supportive, loving spouses like you who make motherhood a fulfilling experience.

Happy Holidays to all!

Colette said...

Peggy, I can totally relate to your comment "nothing happenned until I started discussing it..." Too often, women don't ask for what they want. I think you'd enjoy my earlier post on this topic:

Long said...

i visited your site n was good enough than othere site that i visited before.

part-time job

Colette said...

Long, thanks for visiting! Please come back on Fridays for more!

Anonymous said...

For most women and men, competence stops far short of any ceiling. The power lies in the idea and its execution. If the path is blocked and there is unrealized potential, be assured that top executives and boards are constantly scanning for skilled people they can trust to perform and succeed. We do a disservice to ourselves by letting us be boxed in.