Non-Traditional Occupations For Women – Cracking the Glass Ceiling at Corporations

The glass ceiling is a term that has come to mean a barrier to women’s advancement in the workplace. Believe it or not, this term celebrates its 30th birthday this year! The term was originated by diversity consultant Marilyn Loden in a 1978 presentation to the Women’s Action Alliance Conference, to “describe the invisible barriers to advancement that many women managers still face.” Thirty years later women are still bumping their heads on the glass ceiling, whether they are trying to rise through the management ranks, or gain a foothold in blue collar professions.

One may argue that Sarah Palin being nominated as the vice presidential candidate on the Republican ticket with John McCain is evidence that the glass ceiling is cracking. But she is the first woman candidate on a national ticket since Geraldine Ferraro was Walter Mondale’s vice presidential partner in 1984. There has yet to be a woman on the ballot for the job of President of the United States, although Hillary Clinton made a historic run at the position this year. And though women have not yet attained the highest political post in the United States, they have made some inroads into the top positions in the corporate world.

According to Fortune magazine, the number of women CEOs in the FORTUNE 1000 has increased from 19 in 2005 to 24 in 2008. However, that’s still only 2.4% of the top corporate posts being held by women. An extensive study (of 10,000 high ranking executives in nearly 1000 companies) published by researchers from the Tuck School of Business and Loyola University, concluded that the number of women CEOs will not likely significantly increase until at least 2016, based on the number of women currently in the upper-executive pipeline. The researchers found that in 48% of the largest U.S. firms, there were no women in senior positions, and that women comprised only a token presence in many of the other firms. The researchers project that the percentage of CEO spots held by women will increase from the 2000 level of 1.7% to 4.9% in 2010 and 6.2% in 2016.

If those projections hold, the number of women leading major corporations will still be quite low even in another eight years! So you may be thinking, what does having women in top leadership positions mean and why is it important?

In her book “The Female Advantage,” author Sally Helgesen describes the changes in the corporate world as we’ve moved from an industrial age to a technological age, and states that women are particularly well-suited to the type of corporate hierarchy needed for the fast-moving technological age. She describes this more modern type of hierarchy as a “web of inclusion,” as opposed to the older authoritarian top-down chain of command.

Picture a web, with the leader at the center, reaching out to all via this “web of inclusion.” In a web hierarchy, the leader can create a more democratic and empowered organization that communicates more quickly and functions more effectively, in comparison to a top down hierarchy. In the web, strong relationships are emphasized. Helgesen builds the case that women are particularly well-suited to this type of corporate structure, due to their “feminine principles,” which include an emphasis on building relationships, sharing information, treating others with respect, and thinking of the larger group, not just themselves.

As the corporate workplace continues to speed up and go global, and becomes more and more multi-generational, the need for a different style of leadership will become increasingly important. Women are well-suited to fill that role.

Koval Associates LLC

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