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Terry E.  Cohen headshot

One in Three Women Attempt to Break the Glass Ceiling, But Fewer Than Half Succeed

By Terry E. Cohen
Glass Ceiling

Women increased their representation in leadership positions last year, despite the significant setbacks they faced amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, according to LeanIn.Org and McKinsey’s Women in the Workplace 2021 report. That doesn’t mean all is well, however. The glass ceiling is still with us.

When drilled down for diversity, the data show that women of color have not prospered equally. Black women are facing an even more stubborn glass ceiling: They have lost ground at every rung of the corporate ladder. Further, the report shines a light on persistent obstacles to reaching full parity for women in general at all leadership levels.

Tech giant HP did its own temperature check on the glass ceiling recently by commissioning a study in the U.S., Canada, U.K., Mexico and India, finding that 30 percent of the U.S. women surveyed had applied for a promotion within the last year. Of those, only 40 percent were successful in gaining the desired positions. By comparison, the study revealed that 38 percent of U.S. men applied for promotion, and over half — 52 percent — were successful.

Those gaps are meaningful.

Early on in the LeanIn-McKinsey report, factors such as women’s higher levels of burnout and a “broken rung” for the first step to management explain why women are less likely to reach for promotion.

When women do go after promotions, their reduced level of success in obtaining the desired positions indicates additional impediments. Among them is a lack of programs that increase women’s access to leadership culture and training, such as mentoring and sponsorship of women. Black and Latina women have had little access to such opportunities.

The job-posting company Glassdoor’s research arm found that factors such as diversity and inclusion matter more to employees than pay and benefits. This correlates with HP’s study findings that only 10 percent of the women and 21 percent of the men responded that they planned to stay with their employer because of a highly competitive compensation package.

It isn’t that pay and benefits aren’t important. They are, but the equity of the compensation seems to outweigh the raw amount because it tells employees their worth is recognized.

The recognition of women’s leadership value has been lagging, according to the LeanIn-McKinsey report. Women’s lack of “visibility” in the workplace can play a role in their lower rates of promotional achievement. Visibility is aided by initiatives, such as sponsorship programs, but corporate leaders must also ensure that visibility does not fall victim to one of the workplace attributes that women highly value: flexibility.

In its study, scheduled for publication on today, Women’s International Day, HP identified flexibility as key to keeping women on board in a company’s talent pool. Of those surveyed in the U.S., 56 percent of the women cited the “ability to manage work and life” as their top reason to want to stay with their current employer.

Flexible work arrangements go beyond granting employees to do their jobs from a home office, but there’s no question that remote work has a front-and-center position in everyone’s mind due to its increased use during the pandemic. Women want and need flexible work, but they worry about the double-edged sword of the “mommy track” which — while labeled as such as far back as the late 1980s — still exists as an issue today. That concern may be a factor in U.S. women’s preference of hybrid work (30 percent) and in-office flexibility (also 30 percent) over remote work alone (17 percent).

Companies need to ensure that flexible work arrangements, including remote work, do not put women at risk for lost opportunities in leadership advancement and job growth. Given the evidence that remote work increases productivity and profits, current business leaders can’t afford to let “out of sight, out of mind” be acceptable for disregarding leadership potential.

While businesses are already shifting their organizational landscapes to accommodate the new realities brought on by the pandemic, the time is right to “get it right” when it comes to addressing women’s burnout, leadership loopholes to advancement, deficits in DEI and of course, that glass ceiling.

For fairness and profitability, the message is concise:

Carpe Diem.

Image credit: Alexander Suhorucov via Pexels

Terry E.  Cohen headshot

Terry is a U.S.-based writer and editor. With an extensive background in business, government and media, she writes about economic equity for women, public policy, education and efforts to improve environmental impacts.

Read more stories by Terry E. Cohen