[ The Money Side of Lifeā„¢ ]

Shattered Glass: Breaking the Glass Ceiling

By Koushi Sunder on July 31st, 2004 •

In 1969, Katherine Graham became the first female CEO to head a Fortune 500 company (About.com--Inspirational Women of Business). Remarkable changes for women followed. Women were finally allowed into the coveted, male-only boardrooms, not just as secretaries and caterers, but as executives. Business schools implemented quotas for female students to "diversify" their campuses. Hiring practices became more fair as countless discrimination and sexual harassment cases triumphed in court. Women were popping up everywhere in the business world. Everywhere...except the top.

Thirty-five years later, not much has changed. The number of female Fortune 500 CEOs is now eight. And less than 10 percent of the 6,428 total corporate level positions at America's largest companies go to women (National Association of Female Executives).

Reaching For The Top Rung

Where did all the women go? They may be hitting an invisible barrier - dubbed the "glass ceiling" - thin enough to go subtly unnoticed but strong enough to block millions of women and minorities from reaching that top rung of the corporate ladder. How is this possible? We are living in an age of equality - or are we? A woman still earns only 77.5 cents to every dollar earned by a male (The Charlotte Observer), and she will often have to work harder than her male counterparts to receive the same career advancement opportunity. While the outcomes of glass ceiling discrimination are glaringly obvious, the causes are not. Reasons can include company leadership, methodology, preconceived mindsets when hiring and promoting, and a lack of understanding about the female employee's role in her family.

Women-Friendly Companies

It is becoming much easier to identify companies where women are more likely to reach the top. Simply look to companies that value workforce diversity and want to eliminate the glass ceiling. A solid 10 minutes surfing the web will often shed light on a company's hiring and promotion practices.

Most dangerous to a woman's advancement are the preconceived notions of women's roles that interviewers, supervisors, and peers may hold. Women are more often than not seen as "soft," easy to manipulate, and invariably, the weaker of the sexes.

Unfortunately, women in our society also face the battle of juggling "family time" with "work time." Women, unlike their male colleagues, frequently have to choose between the two. Often, family time wins and another potential leader is whisked away.

Going It Alone

One answer found by more and more women is to go it alone. It's projected that 4.7 million women will be self-employed by the year 2005 (up 77 percent since 1983). Women are realizing that the old adage, "If you can't beat 'em, join 'em," simply doesn't hold true for them and are striking out on their own. After all, why "join 'em" when you can "beat 'em" with a whole new game?

The Bottom Line

With more women setting their own rules by becoming self-employed, we should see more and more joining the ranks of the five self-made female billionaires, which include Oprah Winfrey, Martha Stewart, J.K. Rowling (Harry Potter), Doris Fisher (GAP Co-Founder) and Marian Illitch (Little Caesars Pizza).