Cracking the Glass Ceiling

A move in the right direction for women in business

By Natalie Hansen

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Mary Barra, GM’s new CEO

It’s well known that women only make up a small percentage of leaders for the country’s major corporations – as of this month, only 23 of the companies on the Fortune 500 list have a female CEO. Progress to crack the so-called glass ceiling has been slow, but it is happening; this year, the number of women in a CEO position jumped 4%. Women are slowly but surely breaking into more business positions where they can take the reins. Most recently, Mary Barra was chosen to be GM’s new CEO and made history as the first female CEO of a major American auto company.

 

Barra previously served as the company’s vice president of global product development and, while not a sure bet, was in a great position to move onto CEO.  Barra called the move a “natural progression” and said young women (and men) aspiring to a similar position someday just needed to “do great work” in order to get noticed. Barra has been with the company since 1980, and has made headlines by taking up the leadership mantle in a highly male-dominated industry.

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Marjorie Scardino

Elsewhere in business news, Marjorie Scardino was appointed Twitter’s first female board member, after several months of backlash against the social media outlet for not having an all-white, all-male board. Once the board’s makeup had been made public knowledge, Twitter users responded in force with requests that Twitter immediately hire a female member. Twitter’s CEO initially resisted the criticism, and said that choosing a woman for the board would simply amount to “checking a box.” His mind has since changed, or Scardino impressed him enough to consider otherwise.

This attitude, in essence, is why women struggle to climb to the top. While progress is being made, there’s still a long way to go before women don’t feel the need to compensate for being female just to earn a corporate leadership position. Tom Falk, CEO of Kimberly-Clark Corp., says that most companies likely aren’t putting a focus on diversity in their boards and leadership. While they may be considering all applicants equally regardless of gender, the “boys club” that has already been established at the top makes it difficult for women to even get there to begin with. Charlotte Laurent-Ottomane of The Thirty Percent Coalition, a group that seeks to ensure women make up 30% of board seats across public companies by 2015, says that board term limits are a major issue. When board members only rotate out once every ten to twenty years, it makes it difficult for women to find available positions to work towards. Laurent-Ottomane also acknowledged that diversity quotas for boards (“just checking a box”) were likely not helpful either and may even be counterproductive.

Still, the small progress that has happened is promising for the future of women in business. As the push for diversity continues, and women like Barra and Scardino become role models for girls and women in the field, more women will follow them and squeeze through the cracks in the glass ceiling. Boris Groysberg, who teaches a class at Harvard on how women can further their careers, said in a CNN article that he has high hopes for the next generation of women in business. “I am going to do everything in my power to make sure that I helped build companies in 10 years that will be much, much more receptive to my daughters than the companies that I know exist in 2013,” he said.

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