Women in business: breaking through the glass ceiling

Women have always struggled to make their name in business. This has been a common factor among all societies and cultures for decades until recently, when women began stepping into roles and positions by challenging pre-set norms and values attributed to them. However, their struggle seems far from over as this change has yet to be widely accepted by society, even today. 

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What is the glass ceiling?

The ‘glass ceiling’ is a term that describes the invisible barrier that prevents women from pursuing professional advancements and progressing professionally. A management consultant turned author, and diversity advocate, Marilyn Loden, was the first to use this term in 1978. The glass ceiling can be thought of as a prejudice that keeps even the most educated and accomplished women from taking advantage of new chances. The meaning of this phrase has now been expanded. Currently, the glass ceiling also refers to gender and racial discrimination.

The glass ceiling limits diversity, which is detrimental to both businesses and organizations as well as society as a whole. Because of this, there is a dearth of women and members of other minority groups in executive, leadership and decision-making roles. Imagine a company that favors hiring men over women for the more prominent management roles because they think that men make more ‘capable’ managers. There is a glass ceiling when female candidates are just as qualified and experienced as male ones.

Unwritten rules and implicit bias favor men even though the company doesn’t explicitly bar women from reaching senior positions. The glass ceiling limits the ability to work women to learn new skills and get more experience. They are therefore unable to progress as far in their jobs as men.

A closer look at the glass ceiling through examples

In many different ways, the glass ceiling makes individuals feel excluded. Below are a few instances of the glass ceiling:

  • Being denied a promotion to a managerial role in the company because you’re expecting a child or planning a family.
  • Not having the necessary resources and equipment to excel at your work.
  • Being kept out of significant executive meetings.
  • Being abruptly moved to new assignments so that male employees have more opportunities.
  • Being exposed to remarks that are insulting and derogatory because of your color, sexual orientation, gender or class.
  • Not being permitted/invited to attend socializing or training events for leaders.

Why does the glass ceiling still prevail in professional settings?

The invisible barriers between women and the executive-level positions that prohibit them from advancing to the highest ranks of the corporate world despite their achievements, skills and merits, according to the US Department of Labor, are known as the ‘glass ceiling’.

These barriers, which usually go unnoticed, are made up of implicit laws and prejudicial judgments. They include countless obstacles that prevent women from advancing in their professional careers. Women are more likely to encounter restricted access, fewer opportunities, and lower pay as a result of these barriers, which delay or stop them from achieving leadership roles or promotions.

Although it is no longer customary for women to be overtly discriminated against in the workplace, unconscious and implicit bias still prevail in many workplaces. For example, a classic setting for informal business meetings and discussions is the golf course, and golf is a largely male sport. There is also the tradition of taking visiting business partners to strip clubs – something that often makes female workers feel uncomfortable and demeaned. 

Although society has made significant strides toward fairness, women who have the drive to lead still face many obstacles on their path to professional success. To eradicate the glass ceiling, it is essential to understand all the factors that contribute to it in detail. The interconnected components affect gender equality. 

Gender roles

Traditional ideas of what is normal for men and women often dictate the treatment and behavior of people in the modern workplace. Society often segregates people according to gender in ways that we don’t even think about – separate physical education classes, friendship groups, and so on. These divisions creep into workplaces unconsciously and affect the way that people network and socialize. 

For example, a male senior figure might feel more comfortable developing a friendly working relationship with another man and eventually consider him suitable for promotion based on this rapport, without considering if he has spent as much time getting to know his female colleagues. It is not enough for people to say that unconscious bias is bad – active effort needs to be made to identify it and overcome it. In the above example, the executive must make more effort to approach his female colleagues and build rapport. In this way, he will have a clearer idea of the capabilities, mentality and suitability of all of his staff equally. 

Gender bias

Due to discrimination based on gender, women are sometimes unable to enter a workforce or succeed in their current positions. Women who are often highly qualified find themselves being overlooked for promotion, or their contributions ignored. Business culture favors highly competitive, calculated and strategic decision makers. These are all traditionally considered ‘male’ characteristics, and women often find themselves having to work twice as hard to disprove this bias. 

This bias is compounded by the decision, or not, to start a family. Many employers are wary of hiring women above the age of 30 because of the ‘risk’ of them taking time off to have a child. Women often experience guilt over their decision to stay at home or rejoin work, and society is often highly judgmental of women’s choices in this regard. The conflict that women experience and the lack of support they receive make the prospect of fighting for promotion a particularly challenging one through no fault of their own. 


Harassment has three different categories: one relates to a protected characteristic (gender is one of them), another is sexual harassment, and the third is less favorable treatment because a victim submitted to or rejected sexual harassment. Any uninvited behavior has the purpose of intimidating, belittling, degrading or offending its target. It can be carried out physically, electronically or verbally. 

Regrettably, sexual harassment is a common practice in offices and is often considered ‘harmless flirting’. In a research published in the ABA Journal in 2018, 68% of female participants said that they had experienced sexual misconduct, and 70% of those events had happened at work. 

In a workplace that is dangerous and hostile, it is impossible for anyone to prosper, including women. By making women think that their employment or workplace poses a threat to their safety, sexual harassment decreases their aspirations. Women routinely quit their job and their workplace as a result of it.

The glass ceiling in different professions

Despite recent advancements for women in the workplace, there remains an extremely high possibility that an employer is a man. There’s a significant possibility that men dominate the upper-management staff. Just 25% of senior positions are occupied by women, according to a global analysis of leadership employment by gender.

The prevalence of a gender pay gap in the highest levels of our businesses has wide-ranging effects on female workers and everyone who collaborates with them. Recognizing the importance of this issue may hinder the development of entire enterprises, have a terrible impact on worker productivity, and damage the reputation of brands.

Many, if not most, women have invisible hurdles that prevent them from reaching the highest levels of organizational hierarchies and establishing themselves in leadership positions. Although starting your own business and being an entrepreneur are undoubtedly options, most individuals will work their whole lives in the mainstream labor market. Companies must do more to remove the hurdles that prevent women from rising, and must build work conditions that enable them to collaborate to achieve their objectives if they are to break the glass ceiling that these constraints create.

What efforts are women making to break through the glass ceiling?

Women make up a smaller percentage of leadership positions than men, according to the most recent data on the worldwide labor force (where it now stands at 48.5%). However, this wasn’t through lack of effort. Women aspire to take control of their professions and change the world – for themselves and one another. Women now make up approximately 10% more of the entrepreneurial population. In 74 economies worldwide in 2017, 163 million women started companies, while 111 million ran existing firms. Although the glass ceiling has not yet been destroyed, fractures have begun appearing due to continued pounding.

However, can the rising number of female entrepreneurs alter the power structure and increase the number of women in leadership positions? Looking at how women attempt to transform how they are seen in professional settings provides us with encouraging information. Below is a list of the top five women who successfully shattered the glass ceiling and made their name in the field of business.

Top five women to shatter the glass ceiling in the field of business

Irene Rosenfeld

For 30 years, Irene Rosenfeld has worked in the agribusiness of food and drink. Currently, she serves as chairperson and CEO of Mondelēz International, an American multinational confectionery, drinks and food corporation with over 100,000 employees worldwide.

Rosenfeld is ranked 10th on Forbes’ list of the ‘Most Powerful Women’ and sixth on the Wall Street Journal’s list of ‘50 Women to Watch’.

When it comes to the likelihood of failure, Rosenfeld, who makes close to $20m a year, is rather upbeat. She said that the best approach to dealing with loss is to make sure that you gain knowledge from it so that you have a better chance of succeeding the next time.

Ursula Burns

Ursula Burns’ journey from poverty to wealth is admirable. Her mother was the only parent who reared her in a housing project in New York City. Her parents were immigrants from Panama. From July 2009 to December 2016, she served as Xerox’s chairman and chief executive officer.

As per Forbes, Burns was able to convert a corporation formerly solely known for printed copies into a sustainable and lucrative business. Burns became the very first female African American CEO of a Fortune 500 company. She contributed to Xerox’s $18bn revenue in 2015 alone.

Burns emphasizes the need to stay true to oneself when it comes to leadership. True success won’t come through adopting someone else’s personality or manner of leading. You may be somebody else all your life and follow, but you cannot be anybody else and lead.

Cynthia Carroll

Anglo American PLC, a British mining firm and a significant producer of platinum, hired Cynthia Carroll as its first CEO. Before leaving her post as chief executive in 2012, Carroll was among the most powerful women in the sector.

Carroll had several obstacles because she was a woman working in a field dominated by men, but she overcame them all to accomplish a great deal. Carroll gave Anglo American a value-based management approach, which assisted in organizing the ‘bureaucratic sprawl’ that she had been given.

Indra Nooyi

In 1994, Indra Nooyi started working for the international food, drinks and snacks company PepsiCo. She was made chief financial officer in 2001. In 2006, she formally took over as the company’s president and CEO.

The company’s net profit increased from $2.7bn to $6.5bn since Nooyi took over as CFO, and she has played a vital role in various deals and acquisitions. For the first time in more than a century, Pepsi’s market worth has surpassed that of Coca-Cola, thanks to Nooyi’s commitment and involvement in global strategy.

Nooyi ranks among the most influential women globally and makes almost $20m a year.

Oprah Winfrey

We can only discuss female success stories by mentioning Oprah Winfrey, the media mogul who overcame parental neglect and poverty to become one of the most influential women in the entertainment industry. Winfrey overcame racial and gender barriers to reach her current position.

Her estimated net worth is $3bn. Winfrey is a philanthropist in addition to her tremendous wealth. Most of her funds are donated to the Oprah Winfrey Operating Foundation, the Oprah Winfrey Foundation, and the Angel Network.

How can you play a part in shattering the glass ceiling?

Identify your self-worth

Doubting their value is the main obstacle that women face throughout their careers. Because it is taught from birth that we must be agreeable, women generally find it difficult to demand what they are worth. Women are accustomed to being offered and frequently accepting the lowest pay, as people will constantly want to hire you for the cheapest rate in the business. Women must gradually have the courage to stand by their demands and ask for what they are worth.

Treat your job as a position for all genders

Never regard your position as a ‘woman’s position’. Instead, consider it as a position for a person. Refrain from believing that you won’t ever be able to achieve particular job ambitions that men can have. Having this mindset will demonstrate that, regardless of your gender, you can succeed if they can. In order to turn this dream into reality, women must see themselves as equal competitors. We must also assist other women who are advancing so that more of us will think that we can achieve our professional objectives.

Find a female role model who inspires you

Choose a businesswoman you admire and invite her out for coffee if you want to advance professionally. When you explain to them what you want to accomplish, question them about how they arrived where they are. As a consequence, when a position opens up, they will think of you first. If you’ve already accomplished this, then give the female candidates another look. The more female entrepreneurs we have, the better. 

How can businesses and other organizations help to shatter the glass ceiling?

Even though the glass ceiling persists in the business world, we must all work together to redefine women’s roles inside our organizations to effect change. All employees must support the cause of women’s economic empowerment, and men must serve as allies in leadership positions. In order to remove obstacles in the workplace and establish equal possibilities, we must challenge the sexist stereotypes that permeate all industries and their sectors. This will help us move toward attaining equity on all fronts. Below are some of the points that all organizations must work on to play their part in shattering the glass ceiling.

Establish a mentoring program for women

Employing women is only the beginning. If companies want to increase the number of women in their workforce, they must also give them adequate education and chances to move up to leadership positions. Collaboration is essential if successful professional women are to live in harmonious communities. Enabling women to work together and learn from one another can help your business advance female junior employees into senior roles or give them the chance to gain leadership experience. Companies can also provide support for their female employees by enrolling them in online MBA programs, such as those offered by Kettering University Online, to help them improve their chances of success in the field of business. 

Keep an eye on developments within the company

There are companies that disclose data regarding the corporate gender ratio, and we should all work to be included on that list. Monitoring the efficacy of policies and procedures is essential for maintaining equal and fair workplaces. Putting policies and processes in place is only the first step. Making sure that all staff members have access to the appropriate training, promotions and other progression opportunities will also help. The most effective monitoring techniques begin with regular management interaction with staff. To inspire people on your staff to freely discuss concerns that may go unnoticed beneath the surface, send out confidential satisfaction surveys or create an online tip box.

Use both inside and outside success stories to your advantage

As role models for success, consider top-tier businesses and those who contributed to their ascent. How did these firms successfully remove the obstacles of the glass ceiling from their workplaces? What career advancements have the participating women achieved due to efforts to bring about further change? Find businesses run by women and organizations that support and encourage women leaders, and look at the successful corporate strategies they share.

By Cary Grant

Cary Grant, the enigmatic wordsmith hailing from the UK, is a literary maestro known for unraveling the intricacies of life's myriad questions. With a flair for delving into countless niches, Grant captivates readers with his insightful perspectives on issues that resonate with millions. His prose, a symphony of wit and wisdom, transcends boundaries, offering a unique lens into the diverse tapestry of human curiosity. Whether exploring the complexities of culture, unraveling philosophical conundrums, or addressing the everyday mysteries that perplex us all, Cary Grant's literary prowess transforms the ordinary into extraordinary, making him a beacon of intellectual exploration.

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