That old chestnut: is there still a glass ceiling?

Posted in: Bloggery

There is no doubt the workplace has substantially improved for women over the last few decades.  There has bee a lot of progress over a short period of time.  We no longer see the sexism and discrimination that was open and visible several decades ago in many workplaces, highlighted in TV programs such as “Mad Men”.  However, we still have a long way to go. Inequality in the workplace is still a significant issue – for women who are excluded from career opportunities and key decision-making roles, and for the business community generally as a result of lack of diversity in thinking and decision-making.

  • For one thing, over 50% of University graduates in Australia are women, yet only about 9% of senior executive roles in the ASX200 are held by women and less than 4% of Board directorships. Somewhere along the way businesses are losing out on the skills, capabilities and insights women provide.
  • On the world stage, (according to the World Economic Forum 2011 report) while Australian women’s educational attainment is amongst the best in the world, Australia ranks  a low 18th for economic participation of women and a dismal 38th for political empowerment . Our rankings are deteriorating each year.

So despite the rise of individual women into positions of power and the initiatives some workplaces have implemented to support women’s careers, it seems the gravitational pull of the status quo is still strong and holding back progress especially here in Australia.

Breaking the glass ceiling is really about demolishing the status quo. Get a critical mass of women into positions of power and the issue of gender starts to disappear.

Women can be powerful in challenging the status quo. Here are two specific suggestions to mobilise women for change.

Firstly, it is important that women support each other. Collectively, as with any group, women can be powerful.  Join or build a supportive network. Use social media. There is power in numbers, and women can learn from each other through sharing experiences. The women’s network also provides a powerful group of women who can sponsor you and enable you to raise your profile outside your own workplace.

Secondly, if you want to pursue a successful corporate career, choose to work for organisations that are women-friendly and truly embrace diversity. How do you spot these organisations?

  • They have women in critical operational and key decision-making roles, not just support roles like HR or Marketing.
  • They have well established practices in place around diversity and inclusion.
  • They measure their progress against diversity targets and hold managers accountable for achieving diversity in their teams, at all levels.

Thirdly, be a role model yourself.  Set out to mentor other women and create opportunities for them.

There are more strategies and tactics to think about, as outlined in the stories and chapters in Sideways To The Top. However, these three actions will be of enormous benefit to any
woman striving to achieve a senior leadership career.

This month’s blog has been written by Norah Breekveldt, Director of Macfarlan Lane.