The “glass ceiling effect” has various definitions, but one is that the glass ceiling becomes harder to break as you get higher on the job ladder.
This means, while you, as a woman, might not experience much gender discrimination as a mid-level manager, you might find more of it as you move into executive management.
Even in the 21st century, women worldwide have been underrepresented in positions of power, often at the corporate level.
In fact, in 2016, Fortune magazine reported that the percentage of female CEOs in their Fortune 500 had dropped – from 24 to 21, for a paltry 4.2%. While that rebounded in 2017 to 32 women-run companies, a percentage of 6.4%, these numbers are woefully low.
On the positive, these women CEOs are actually earning more than their male peers on average.
Are Times Changing for Women and the Glass Ceiling?
While there are some young women executives, CEOs still tend to be in their 50s and not their 30s. Former Yahoo president and CEO Marissa Mayer was in her 30s when given the helm of the company.
It is possible that some of the gender bias in the appointment of CEOs simply has something to do with the era of change – that women in their 50s now would have been up-and-coming in the 80s and 90s, when women were not given as many opportunities at lower levels.
And, as more women come into power, perhaps it will be easier for the women coming up under them.
This isn’t necessarily a given, however.
For example, when Yahoo’s Marissa Mayer started her job, she seemed to throw other women under the bus. How? She required telecommuting, work-at-home moms to transfer to office work, while she went and built a private daycare center for her own child next to her office.
This doesn’t tell the full story. She was also charged with gender discrimination by men who claimed she created an environment that favored the hiring of women.
Clearly, being a woman in power can be tricky, as criticism can come from both sides. Additionally, any affirmative action for women (whether codified or casual) might bring with it charges of gender discrimination from men.
How Can Women Break the Glass Ceiling Effect at the Executive Level?
Comprehensive policies at a corporate level, as well as in education, may still need to be developed to support more female executives. Women will need to charge forward as much as possible, creating opportunities even if brick walls come up.
Perhaps one of the best ways for women to break the glass ceiling is to not just be employed at companies but to own them. With more female-owned and run start-ups, more women can take the lead.
These start-up companies can show by example how to break glass ceilings and keep those upper floors open and accessible to the young, female talent below.
In the meantime, women stockholders can vote with their dollars, and invest in companies that value female leadership and support their women employees.