Is the Glass Ceiling Now a Myth for Female Executives in 2014?

Kathy Leck

Sunday, February 23, 2014

In December, General Motors named Mary Barra as its new CEO, and before the announcement was even finished, reporters the world over were proclaiming a new and large crack in the proverbial ‘glass ceiling’ for women in business.

The term ‘glass ceiling’ was first coined in 1986 and used to describe the invisible barrier that exists between women and top business jobs.  There is sufficient statistical and anecdotal evidence to demonstrate that women still encounter gender bias and barriers in the workplace.  The numbers prove that women continue to make up only a small percentage of top executives, even though the numbers are steadily climbing. In 1995, only 8.7% of top executives at Fortune 500 companies were female; less than three years later the number rose to 11%. 

In recent years there has been an increase in female corporate leadership of Fortune 500 businesses  but the numbers are still low, with only 3.6% of them lead by women. According to research by Catalyst (a non-profit organization dedicated to studying women in the marketplace) 9 out of 10 Fortune 500 corporations ha[d] no women on their boards at all in 2012,  and women held only 7.5% of Executive Officer top positions, while men accounted for 92.5% of top earning executive roles.

But the numbers are not entirely discouraging.  According to the infographic we have sourced,  women run 104 million businesses around the world.  In the Global Gender Gap Report 2013, published by the World Economic Forum, several countries are making headway toward gender equality in business, although the U.S. continues to fall short, placing 22nd on the list of countries based on the salary-gender gap.

Some of the obstacles which women face when working their way up the corporate ladder include:

1. Perceived Lack of Business Acumen

Women often have had experience and expertise in leading people, developing talent, and collaborating across the business spectrum.   They often have a perceived lack of financial acumen and strategic skills. Even when women have the same qualifications and background, they are not often guided to stress these competencies to their full potential.

2. Leadership style

Women in business have a difficult time reconciling the qualities that others prefer to see in women, such as compassion and teamwork, with qualities that people expect to see in successful leaders, such as being in control, directive and being assertive.

3. Confidence

Women often do not project or feel a sense of self confidence in what they know and what they can do. Self promoting is viewed by women as arrogance.  Unlike men, women often downplay their successes and stress their learning needs.

In order for women to find equal footing in terms of salary and benefits, companies can help by evaluating productivity by objective standards such as breakthrough innovations or bench marks.  It is critical to align evaluation with performance based measurable to help eliminate gender bias.  Well esteemed mentors for women in business will also help them to push through the concept of the ‘glass ceiling’ that is still in place today.

Lake Forest Logo


Kathy Leck
Vice President, Corporate Learning Solutions

Does a Glass Ceiling Exist in 2013?
Explore more infographics like this one on the web’s largest information design community – Visually.



(Category: , )