In 1986, an article in The Wall Street Journal by Carol Hymowitz and Timothy Schellhardt first introduced the term Glass Ceiling. The illustration that accompanied the article showed a woman in a business suit pushing up against a glass barrier. After that article, the term Glass Ceiling caught on quickly as the metaphor for an impenetrable blockade that women face when seeking leadership positions that have previously been occupied by men.
Since then, there has been considerable progress in the number of women in managerial roles, but little progress in executive leadership. Catalysts’ research in 2005 found that women occupy 16 percent of executive positions in Fortune 500 companies, up from 9 percent ten years earlier.
The reasons for the lack of more significant progress are varied and this remains a complicated issue that has been and continues to be the subject of much discussion. The term Glass Ceiling is no longer an accurate descriptor as many women have successfully risen to the top; have shattered the barrier and attained executive and board level positions in organizations.
I believe there is much to learn from the women who have achieved executive status. Their stories need to be evaluated not only on their unique skill sets, but also the cultural environment of their company at the time of their promotion or appointment. Every success story has a special lesson.
Now and again, there is a prominent success story that grabs our attention and this week it was the appointment of Diane Sawyer as the second woman solo-anchor of a network evening news broadcast. There will now be two women solo-anchors (Katie Couric being the first) on the networks’ flagship programs.
Connie Chung is quoted as saying:
This signifies that the age of dinosaur behavior in the news industry is over. The network-news flagship program has been the last vestige of the dark ages. The anchor has always been traditionally a male – a white male.
So yes. There is progress. Women are reaching top positions. When we see the progress, we need to not only celebrate each success, but we should also seek to learn what we can about each woman’s journey to help us in our own quest to climb the ladder.