Categorized | Workplace

Casting Stones at the Glass Ceiling

Posted on 11 July 2009

Mentors and education are keys to promotion.

Casting stones won’t shatter the so-called “glass ceiling,” but college degrees will. In the first in-depth, cross-cultural study documenting the career paths of highly successful senior-level women and minority executives in corporate America, education and mentoring were found to be the critical keys to a highly compensated, “fast-track” corporate career. The study was conducted by executive search firm Korn/Ferry International and the Columbia Business School.

More than 74 percent of the 280 participating minorities and women relied on four-year college degrees to get the full attention of corporate management while 44 percent added an MBA degree as extra insurance. Almost all were fast-tracked internally by formal and informal company mentors as well as superiors and co-workers. Average age was 46.5 years. Annual salaries ranged from a minimum of $100,000 to $500,000, not counting bonuses, stock options and other perks.

“The executive suite is no longer a club for privileged, fourth generation, white American males,” explains Joanna Miller, Korn/Ferry’s Managing Director of Management Assessment Practice. “It is a place where education, determination and hard work win the day.

The executive suite is no longer a club for privileged, fourth generation, white American males.

“Nevertheless,” she says, “the glass ceiling is very real, especially for those who do not have a college degree and must compete on wit and work experience alone. The best advice I can give these people is to get back to school and stop casting stones at what they see as discriminatory hiring practices.”

Miller believes moving women into senior management positions remains one of the most complex and challenging tasks in the field of executive recruiting. “We unfairly stereotype women when we infer that they are more concerned, burdened and focused on family issues and other activities outside of work than men,” she points out. “It’s closer to the mark to observe that a woman’s tolerance for the workplace is more determined by her values and priorities than those of a man.”

At Xerox, of the company’s forty-officer management team, 20 percent are females including the president, the vice presidents of engineering and human resources, and the chief investment and information officers. Xerox focuses on diversity in the hiring of women and minorities at the highest corporate levels through an Executive Diversity Council, chaired by Anne Mulcahy, the company’s president and new CEO.

Southern California Edison Company, on the other hand, has been considered a man’s company for most of its 116-year history.

“A company is bound to project a macho image when its published corporate history is entitled “Iron Men And Copper Wires,” explains Frank Quevedo, SCE Vice President of Equal Opportunity/Diversity. “To this day,” he quips, “we can’t get women to climb power poles even though we made a huge effort to get them to train for the job in the early 1970s.”

If you think Edison still lacks the employment diversity that it did in ’70s, you’re barking up the wrong pole, according to Quevedo. The company is currently ranked by Fortune magazine as the fourth most diversified U.S. Company in terms of hiring practices with a workforce that is 28.2 percent female and 42.8 percent minority. Ten percent of the company’s officer cadre and that of its parent are women, and one-third are minorities. The company also gets high marks from Fortune for its leadership grants and employee-driven education assistance programs.

Females still have a way to go before they corner the corner offices in the executive suite, according to Catalyst, a Manhattan-based organization dedicated to promoting women in business. It notes in its newsletter that while women hold almost half the managerial and professional specialty positions in U.S. business, only five are CEOs in the Fortune 500.

More than 50 percent of women executives recently surveyed by Catalyst believe male stereotyping and preconceptions keep them from attaining top corporate posts while 49 percent say exclusion from informal, male-dominated communications networks is the culprit. A large percentage of those interviewed also said that their contributions were not recognized and that they were not taken seriously. Meanwhile, more than 80 percent of the male CEOs responding to the survey placed the blame back on the shoulders of women, claiming women significantly lacked general management/line experience and were not in the “pipeline” long enough.

Whatever the reasons for the barriers, “If you want to reach the top, be prepared to go for it with every fiber of your body,” explains Korn/Ferry’s Caroline Nahas. “Conviction, ambition and an unwavering belief in yourself are characteristics that differentiate those that look through the glass ceiling from those that walk through,” she says.

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1 Comments For This Post

  1. Betty-Ann Heggie says:

    There is no doubt that women are paying attention to education and its paying off. Girls have the best marks coming out of high school, they are getting into the best colleges and streaming into the professions. When that is combined with their more natural creativity and concern for the end stakeholder innovation isn’t far behind. This is exactly what businesses need to climb out of the recession so the best strategy for women is to focus on education and mentorship. Its a winning strategy. More thoughts on women in the workplace can be found on my blog and newsletters at Cheers! Betty-Ann

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