Glass Ceiling for Women – Have We Made Any Progress?

Some interesting statistics were presented in a recent McKinsey Quarterly which reports that despite the efforts of the last couple of decades to advance the careers of women and remove the glass ceiling, women who serve on boards or senior executive teams remains at 15 percent in many countries and only 3 percent of Fortune 500 CEOs are women.

The report goes on to say that growth among women executives gets stalled at the “mind-sets” of managers – both men and women alike.  Even when senior leadership commits to executive level diversity, deeply held beliefs seem to influence decisions, such as:

  • Executives perceive women as a greater risk for senior level positions;
  • Executives hold back the difficult feedback that woman need to grow;
  • Executives hesitate to offer opportunities that involve more travel and stress to working mothers.

This is one of those enlightening reports that is shocking and believable at the same time.  I’ve watched this revolution for a couple decades now and agree with Peggy Montanta, a female executive at Shell who said “When you look at corporate mind-sets, change starts at the top.  I haven’t seen change in diversity start from middle management.”

Like most change efforts, it’s all about the leadership at the helm and the time and commitment they put toward advancing not only women, but all minorities. Unfortunately, some of the thought processes that were blatant decades ago are still laying dormant in the subconscious minds of senior executives while women politely wait for change to come.

The good news in this report is that there are some great models out there for advancing women in the workplace.  The three organizations that were represented in this report were Shell, Pitney Bowes and Time Warner, where women represent as high as 40% of senior executives.

So what have these organizations done to increase the percentage of woman at the top?

  • System-wide change driven by a hard-edged approach.
  • Targets that ensure women are at least considered for positions.
  • Rigorous application of data in performance dialogues to help change mind-sets.
  • Genuine sponsorship.

So what can your organization do to help improve advancement opportunities for women?

Strategic Thinking

Like most other change efforts there needs to be strategy and a plan driven from the highest levels of the organization.  Having the conversation, laying out steps to achieve the objective and ensuring accountability for accomplishing the goal is the best approach.

Performance Management

I don’t know a woman out there who would want to be a “token” in a high level position but I do know lots of women who would like to be acknowledged and receive fair pay for their performance.  A well structured performance management system can provide the process and structure to do this.


Everyone needs a mentor and coach who can identify career potential, is bold enough to point out areas that need to be worked on but also reinforces the positive aspects of work behaviors. This person can help influence an employee’s career path.  Most successful professionals can look back on their career and name those mentors that helped influence their development – mine was Antoinette.

Succession Planning

Planning for the replacement of executive level staff should be done through a structured process called succession planning. The process looks at current talent and invests in developing and preparing that talent for greater responsibilities. Getting women on the radar screen for advancement is critical.

I am confident that there are many more organizations that strive to bridge the gap in women executives and the three organizations mentioned here also admit that despite their progress, they have further to go.  But it is also important to not allow the conflicting priorities and pressures on organizations today to push the advancement of women to the back burner.

I heard someone say once that women have to work twice as hard to receive half the recognition.  I look forward to the day when that is no longer the case.

What efforts does your organization do to ensure the advancement of women?  Please comment.