June 20th, 2013 | 1:30 pm

The Glass Ceiling is Real – Why are Leaders Taking So Long to Get Rid of It?

filed under Managing Change

Business woman on the phone checking watchBy Melissa J. Anderson (New York City)

According to a survey of over 1,000 Americans by Edward Jones, women are more ambitious than men. About two-thirds of male and female respondents say that women strive harder than men when it comes to getting leadership roles at work.

But if women are so ambitious, why aren’t there more of them at the top?

The reason, according to the survey, is that the glass ceiling is alive and well. In fact, about two-thirds of respondents (65 percent) believe that women face additional barriers to advancement.

Respondents said the main factors blocking women’s advancement to leadership included male-dominated workplaces (83 percent), the juggle between work and family (73 percent), inadequate policies for women at work (62 percent), and a lack of mentoring leading up to executive levels (56 percent).

Yes, you read that right: according to this study, two-thirds of Americans believe there are structural challenges blocking women’s advancement at work. What’s more, one factor that was definitely not at the top of the list was the notion that women are not trying hard enough to get into leadership roles. In fact, based on the respondents’ views on gender and ambition, women are already leaning in pretty hard.

Here’s what business leaders can do to remove some of those barriers standing in the way of those ambitious, well-educated women – and help themselves in the process, since gender diversity has been shown time and time again to improve company’s’ performance in real, measurable results.

Clearing Pathways to Leadership

Edward Jones’ Director of Financial Advisor Diversity and Female Performance Elizabeth Schehl explained that the perceptions around women and ambition may be influenced by the relatively small proportion of women leaders. As McKinsey and Catalyst studies have shown, women often have to prove they can already do a job before they get it – whereas men simply need to show potential.

“Because there are so few women industry leaders, those who are there feel the need to prove to themselves and others that they can get to the top of the corporate ladder. We’ve also heard about the idea of women having to work harder to prove they are capable for roles, and therefore set themselves up to stand out,” Schehl said.

The industries viewed as most unwelcoming to women were the ones we typically view as male-dominated, like professional services (69 percent), financial services (67 percent), and technology (64 percent).

“We’ve heard many women say that financial services is male dominated and they don’t view it as a viable career – this study shows why,” she continued. When the majority of the American public views an industry as a difficult one for women to advance in, there are probably some issues those industries need to address.

The research shows that hiring more women in the first place may help, as would developing more inclusive cultures and policies regarding work and family responsibilities. Corporate programs to mentor women and cultivate leadership programs would also help.

So would a less bureaucratic workplace. According to the research, 49 percent of the women surveyed said they valued an entrepreneurial environment, and this was second only to compensation when the women were asked what makes them like a particular job.

Schehl said the culture at Edward Jones is marked by entrepreneurialism since financial advisors lead their own offices. “It’s not easy work, but if they apply themselves, women have no glass ceiling to contend with. They can have a terrific career that is rewarding on many levels including financially. There’s no limit to the success they can achieve,” she suggested.

Robust programs designed to encourage women’s leadership can be a game-changer. “One of the biggest ways to help remove the barriers is through mentoring programs, like Edward Jones’ WINGS program. New advisors are paired with veteran female advisors to talk about the barriers and celebrate successes. I think success is something women don’t spend enough time celebrating,” she commented.

“As women, we tend to shy away from acknowledging what we’ve accomplished and I’ve shied away from that myself. It becomes easier to acknowledge the more you do it — and it naturally starts to occur as we gain more momentum.”

“That creates an environment where people want to participate,” she added.

Now the question remains: if the majority of Americans can come to the consensus that the glass ceiling is real and there are distinct barriers standing in the way of women’s advancement, why is it taking so long for many corporate leaders to engage in an earnest attempt at removing them?

1 comment

  1. Caterina

    Where can one find the original report?