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Chiseling Away at the Glass Ceiling

By: Courtenay Patterson

We live in a society where there seems to be a constant push to close the gender gap. College graduation rates have women often outnumbering men, and women attending graduate school has risen to an all-time high, with many programs enrolling more women than men in a given incoming year. In 2008, the first mainstream, politically viable female ran for President of the United States. And yet, despite these seemingly daily strides to bring balance between the genders, professional women continue to struggle to achieve the same career growth as men.

Currently there are only 18 female CEOs of Fortune 500 companies. In other words, only 3.6% of Fortune 500 companies’ CEOs are women. (Bussey, John (May 18, 2012). “How Women Can Get Ahead,” The Wall Street Journal.) Additionally, not only are women less-likely to hold high-powered executive positions in companies, but in a study conducted at the University of Utah, researchers found that, “When it comes to a company’s critical stock market debut, investors are less likely to trust their money to an enterprise led by a female CEO.” (“Study Suggests Women CEOs Face a Green Ceiling in Attracting IPO Investors.” (May 7, 2012). The Wall Street Journal.) Lyda Bigelow, assistant professor at the university’s David Eccles School of Business, found in the study, “Despite identical personal qualifications and firm financials, female founders/CEOs were perceived as less capable than their male counterparts, and IPOs led by female founders/CEOs were considered less attractive investments.”

So what will it take for women to finally become a force to be reckoned with in the business world?

According to Angela Braly, CEO of WellPoint, “The most important factor in determining whether you will succeed isn’t your gender, it’s you.” (Bussey, John (May 18, 2012). “How Women Can Get Ahead,” The Wall Street Journal.) Female CEOs consistently assert that when it comes to being successful in business and in life, women have to be willing to take risks. “Be open to opportunity and take risks. In fact, take the worst, the messiest, the most challenging assignment you can find, and then take control.” (Bussey, John (May 18, 2012). “How Women Can Get Ahead.” The Wall Street Journal.)

Part of being open and willing to take risks means having confidence in oneself. “In order to lead an organization, you have to be incredibly comfortable in your own skin, and the only way to do that is to be confident in who you are ” says Gracia Martore of Gannett Company, Inc. (Bussey, John (May 18, 2012). “How Women Can Get Ahead.” The Wall Street Journal.) Maggie Wilderotter, CEO of Frontier Communications adds, “Look for opportunities to stand out from the crowd and ask for what you want, and when you hit a goal, speak up and toot your horn. Don’t wait to get noticed.” (Bussey, John (May 18, 2012). “How Women Can Get Ahead.” The Wall Street Journal.)

But what if you have confidence in yourself and aren’t afraid to take risks or think outside the box, yet you still don’t feel like you’re achieving your potential in your current job or even on your chosen career path?

How can you break from your trajectory and really make a name for yourself? According to a Wall Street Journal interview of Female CEOs, “Along your career path, pursue new skills relentlessly. Change jobs after you’ve mastered the current one. Be willing to tack sideways on the career track, or even backward, to pick up key expertise or command a business unit.” Heather Bresch, CEO of Mylan, Inc., adds, “I had a very strong work ethic and was willing to do whatever it takes to get the job done. There is simply no substitute for hard work when it comes to achieving success.” (Bussey, John (May 18, 2012). “How Women Can Get Ahead.” The Wall Street Journal.)

When Shannon Wilburn, founder and CEO of the consignment franchise “Just Between Friends,” was twelve years old, her father, the Chief Financial Officer of an oil and gas company, was in an accident that confined him to a wheelchair. In order to do her part and help her family make ends meet, Shannon began selling things on consignment. What began as a philanthropic project in her pre-teen years has now turned into a multi-million dollar enterprise. In 1997, Shannon was a married, stay-at-home mom to her two young children. She had graduated college with a degree in elementary education and had worked for a year and a half before choosing to be a full-time mom. However, she and her husband were struggling financially and she realized she would need to start making money to help support her family. On her mom’s suggestion, Shannon held a consignment event in her living room and made $150. It was so popular amongst the attendees, that she held a second event in slightly larger venue – a 3-car garage. And she hasn’t looked back since. “Just Between Friends” now consists of 116 franchises, located in 24 states. “[The company] grosses more than $20 million annually — all because Shannon followed her instincts and passion and recognized what she was good at! The one thing she didn’t do was let fear of taking a risk get in her way.” (Thomas, Marlo (June 1, 2012). “This Woman’s $20 Million Franchise Started in her Living Room. “ The Huffington Post.)

According to Shannon, the three most significant, fearless lessons she has learned over the years are:

* Surround yourself with smart people. You don’t have to have an MBA or advanced degree to be successful.

* Learn to delegate. It isn’t necessary to be all things to all people.

* Work within your strengths, and collaborate with people who effectively complement both your strengths and weaknesses.
(Thomas, Marlo (June 1, 2012). “This Woman’s $20 Million Franchise Started in her Living Room. “ The Huffington Post.)

While women are largely outranked by men when it comes to holding executive positions in companies, the gap is certainly narrowing. Irrespective of your personal, educational, or professional background, it is clear that to be a successful woman takes drive, determination, a willingness to take risks and accept failure in your pursuits, and a healthy dose of self-awareness. So get out there, take control of your life, your goals, and your destiny, and strive to shatter that glass ceiling.

Image Credits: Copyright (c) 123RF Stock Photos

8 comments on “Chiseling Away at the Glass Ceiling

  1. Thank you for this article. It’s interesting to read and see the statistics about the number of women in the work force and being educated versus, being in leadership roles.

    I read an article in the HBR called Women and the Labyrinth of Leadership. It’s and interesting take on the “Glass Ceiling” notion. They uses a Labrynth to signify that it is possible for women to move up in leadership but they do tend to have obstacles and challenges a head of them like a winding maze.

    • Tiffany, Stacy and Nina! Thank you for your comments, and I’m glad you like her article. Nina – The Labyrinth idea is very interesting, and I’ve never thought of it that way. Can you send me a link to that article? I think it might be a great one to take a look at for this site. =)

    • Thanks Tiffany, Stacy and Nina for your feedback! It’s certainly motivating and inspiring to hear the perspectives of successful, professional women who have made their mark, despite having to overcome a male-dominated corporate America. I agree with Brenna, Nina, that the labyrinth is an interesting metaphor to describe the unique challenges a woman faces in order to achieve success. As a young, professional woman, I was definitely encouraged to keep aiming high and hope others are similarly encouraged.

  2. Pingback: Chiseling Away at the Glass Ceiling « Unturned Stones

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