We are in 2021. Why we still have to write about women at work and the glass ceiling


As a woman who has worked for decades, I’m sick of reading about the Glass Ceiling, how little women gain, and the growing number of women who have quit their jobs during COVID-19 because ‘they disproportionately bore the burden of childcare, home schooling and housework. Why, after all this time, has it changed so little despite corporate initiatives, public policy agendas, and popular activism?

The issue has been analyzed and reported ad nauseam, but progress has been slow and stories of sexual harassment and pay inequity in the workplace are still common. But the hope for solutions rather than platitudes is eternal and a few weeks ago I attended a Zoom presentation on a new book, “Glass Half Broken, Shattering the Barriers That Still Hold Women Back at Work”, by Colleen Ammerman, director of the Gender Initiative at Harvard Business School, and Boris Groysberg, professor at Harvard Business School.

First, some data. Despite making up the majority of college educated workers in the United States, women are still significantly under-represented in the corporate leadership ranks. In 2020, only 7.4% of Fortune 500 companies were run by women. And it was a historic record. And of those 37 women, only three were women of color.

Women generally rise to leadership positions by threading the finest needles – managing the trade-off between competence and sympathy. I have certainly experienced this challenge in my career.

To my delight, Ammerman and Groysberg came up with concrete actions that individuals can take, structural changes that organizations can make, and leadership roles that men can play in addressing inequalities.

First, men are essential to the success of women. “Because they occupy positions of power, authority and influence, they can avoid some of the backlash that women receive, and their efforts to combat sexism are seen as more legitimate and supportive,” write the authors. As I reflect on my own career, two of my best mentors were men who provided me with valuable opportunities to develop my professional expertise.

The challenge is that men often don’t see the barriers women face, they are afraid to ‘swim against conventional expectations’ and they don’t think it’s theirs to speak out unless the company does. just empower her and say it’s important.

Structural changes are more difficult. Companies need to hire and support diversity in how they integrate new employees, how they manage professional development, and how they pay and promote.

For example, how the job description is written, where it is posted, how resumes are reviewed and the structure of the interview process are important. Here are some suggestions from the book:

  • Clearly stated requirements make qualified women more likely to apply.
  • Give yourself time to look deeper and not just jump on the first candidate.
  • Remove gender information from candidate via blind auditions and anonymized CVs during CV first screening.
  • Track the proportion of male and female candidates and compare the results to your industry average and your internal diversity aspirations
  • Leverage appropriate networks that may be outside of your normal reach
  • Use a diverse panel of interviewers and use a standardized format to ensure that all applicants are held accountable to the same standards.
  • Educate investigators and assessors about unconscious biases about a woman’s low engagement or competence.

In the 1980 film, “9 to 5,” Dolly Parton sang:

Work from 9 to 5, what a way to earn a living

Barely get by, it’s take everything and give nothing

They just use your mind, and they never give you credit

It’s enough to drive you crazy if you allow it.

Many women, at various stages of their careers and across the country, still feel that way. “Women’s aspirations are shrinking and” crumbling under the pressure of an uneven reality, blocked paths to advancement, contributions that are neither credited nor rewarded, and a deep sense of frustration at such unfair conditions », Write the authors.

I’m optimistic. I believe in change. Ceilings can be lifted and broken.

If you would like to learn more about how to change the current paradigm, the Workforce Equity & Civility Initiative would like to invite you to attend a free community conversation on Zoom with book co-author Ammerman on June 23 from 4 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. pm. To register for the event on Eventbrite, Click here. For more information, email me at [email protected]

Neil Senturia and Barbara Bry are married serial entrepreneurs who invest in technology start-ups. You can listen to their weekly podcast on innovation and entrepreneurship at imthereforyoubaby.com. Please send your ideas to Neil at [email protected]

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