As a leader, you may have noticed that the higher you go, the fewer women you see when you look around the table. Although entry and mid-level positions are often gender balanced, the representation of women tapers off at higher rungs of leadership. In one study that looked at 130 companies with more than ten thousand employees, the representation of women steadily decreased from 22 percent of middle managers to 14 percent of vice presidents, 9 percent on the executive team, and only 2 percent in the CEO position. In 2011 in the United States, women held only 3.6 percent of Fortune 500 CEO positionsand only 16.1 percent of Fortune 500 board seats. Globally, women account for only 10.5 percent of executive board members.
What happens between the entry to mid-level roles and the higher ranking ones? First, highly trained women are dropping out of the workforce in disproportionately large numbers when compared with their male counterparts. One obvious factor is the timing of starting families, and the responsibility women share in that stage of life. But for the women who remain in the workforce, the reality is that men have better odds of being promoted to the next level. The systems and dynamics that result in fewer women being offered top positions is what makes up the proverbial glass ceiling — the invisible barriers that are difficult to detect, explain, and address. Even when companies and their employees are committed to making a difference, the problem is not readily solved.
The steady decline in the representation of women from entry level, to mid-management, to executive and board positions, is the glass ceiling phenomenon that so many leaders like you are trying to shatter.
Maybe you want to advance your own career, maybe you want all people to be able to reach their potential, or maybe you want your daughters and granddaughters to be able to fulfill their career ambitions. Whatever your personal reason, there is also a business impetus to break the glass ceiling.