A Publication of WTVP

Breaking the Glass Ceiling

by Dee Brown |

Even though there have been many efforts to ensure equality in the workplace, women leaders continue to face challenges and barriers while pursuing top leadership roles.

Female executives still make up a small portion of the business sector. Many people in society have become numb to the fact that men outnumber women in leadership positions across all sectors, including business, nonprofit organizations, government agencies, health care and education.

Although there has been much success in evening out the playing field regarding the number of female staff in the workplace and women in middle management in the past three decades, gender discrimination continues to prevail.

Statistics You Should Know

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), women currently comprise 57 percent of the entire U.S. labor force and 52 percent of all management positions and professions, such as doctors and lawyers. They outnumber men in  masters and doctorate degrees earned at American institutions, accounting for a whopping 60 percent of bachelor’s degrees awarded. BLS also reports that women earn, on average, 82 cents for every dollar their male counterparts earn.

The World Economic Forum reported that just 19 percent of board seats and 15 percent of senior officer posts are held by women at Fortune 500 businesses, and only 4 percent of CEOs are female. That means 20 CEOs of the 500 companies are female, while their male counterparts run the remaining 480.

What are the barriers to women?

Professional women have overcome significant obstacles in the business sector over the past 50 years, rising to positions of leadership despite the odds being stacked against them.

However, these obstacles cause delays and impede their progress. What are these barriers that restrict women from taking on leadership roles?

For starters, due to men’s longstanding dominance in the workforce, networks of female leadership are much less developed.

These networks are essential for coaching and supporting emerging female talent, and for offering the leadership development that men who enter senior positions often receive. Some companies may provide formal training to help women develop their leadership style, while others focus on informal meetings where women can discuss support mechanisms in a more relaxed environment. 

The truth is that women simply do not receive the support and mentorship they need, which holds them back and prevents them from bridging the gender gap.

Family responsibilities can prevent career advancement.

Working women often struggle to strike a balance between work and family. Their capacity to pursue leadership positions may be constrained by their obligations to their families.

Despite working full-time jobs, they often shoulder the majority of home duties, such as cleaning and looking after young children or elderly relatives.

Although working women with kids tend to put in more hours than men, they may not have the option of paid family leave or the ability to work from home. This disparity impacts their financial stability and growth because it often means making personal sacrifices to get to the top.

Gender stereotypes

Subtle gender bias is another barrier holding women back from reaching their full potential.

Employers typically interpret men’s assertive conduct in the workplace as strong, demanding and direct. However, when women exhibit the same boldness, their employers frequently perceive them as confrontational, overbearing and strident.

A female professional often experiences blowback if her actions don’t fit gender norms. She runs the danger of appearing less competitive than her male colleagues if her actions conform to traditional stereotypes, such as being sympathetic or thinking about others before herself.

Moreover, women are paid less than men in the same role, which may diminish their drive to aim for management roles. Meanwhile, some women may be less forceful in their pursuit of promotions because they fear encountering prejudice. Their ascent to higher positions also may be slowed by their reluctance to self-advocate for a well-earned pay raise.

Sadly, a lifetime of indoctrination has trained women to strive for excellence in themselves, often making them less driven to seek female leadership roles. Girls are often taught to act conservatively, unlike boys, who are trained to take chances and act fearlessly.

Final thoughts

Women in business frequently encounter barriers to success. However, they can achieve their goals by taking advantage of leadership development programs, building connections with coaches and sponsors, finding the right work-life balance, and mastering the art of persuasively advocating for their needs and aspirations.

Statistics show that women have the skills and education necessary to become leaders in their companies, but they must continue to break through these barriers.

Dee Brown

Dee Brown

is an entrepreneur, author, speaker, philanthropist and host of the WTVP program Self-Made with Dee Brown CEO. He is president and CEO of The P3 Group Inc. in Memphis, the nation’s largest minority-owned development and construction firm.
A member of the Forbes Business Council