The Glass Ceiling – It’s a Tumbling Down


Many of today’s female leaders are taking over the executive seats in their organizations.  There is ample proof as evidenced by this list of board seats and/or recent executive level promotions: 

·         Irene Rosenfeld, Chairman and CEO at Kraft Foods;

·         Indra Nooyi, Chairman and CEO at PepsiCo;

·         Patricia Woertz, Chairman, CEO, and President at Archer Daniels Midland;

·         Ellen Kullman, Chairman and CEO at DuPont;

·         Patricia Russo, CEO at Lucent;

·         Andrea Jung, Chairman and CEO at Avon Products;

·         Anne Mulcahy, CEO and Chairman at Xerox;

·         Angela Bralym, Chairman, CEO, and President at Wellpoint;

·         Virginia Rometty, SVP and group executive, sales, marketing, and strategy at IBM;

·         Meg Whitman, CEO and president at Hewlett-Packard; and

·         Six among the region's largest 100 publicly-traded companies have three women on their boards: Sunoco Inc., Cigna Corp., Campbell Soup Co., Sunoco Logistics Partners, Charming Shoppes Inc. and Harleysville National Corp.

And the last bullet item above raises another interesting statistic.  A recent study at the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University in Chicago  underscores the benefits of adding more women to corporate boards. Kellogg’s study, entitled “Chipping Away at the Glass Ceiling: Gender Spillovers in Corporate Leadership,” reveals that “a higher representation of women on a company’s board of directors directly increases the female share of and access to higher positions within the company.” The news that putting more women on a company’s board leads to more women in top management positions at that company is very encouraging. And creates the situation of ‘women helping women’ at the highest level of company leadership. The need for help may not be as drastic as in the past when we consider the recent increase in the number of females holding CEO positions as well as these recent global statistics [1]:

·         Thailand has the highest proportion of female CEOs in the world, followed by the People's Republic of China;

·         China follows with 19 percent of their companies employing female CEOs;

·         Next, is the US at 5 percent; and

·         The world average is 8 percent.Overall, these country statistics are more impressive than they were several years ago.

Could it be that our post-depression modern economy is becoming a place that is more congenial to women executives, a place where women hold at least some of the cards? In talking with women holding senior leader positions, they shared with me some pointers about how they have maneuvered to gain impact and get noticed. I compiled that list and share with you here the five that were identified over and over again:

  • Don’t wait to be noticed. Ask for what you want. Be explicit about your aspirations and intentions.
  • Apply for a promotion before you think you’re ready.
  • Garner relationships with mentors of both genders.
  • Broaden your global skills and experiences.
  • Temper your emotions – be even-keeled at all times even if you’d prefer to let opinion run wild!

So creating the conditions and environment for women to contribute to their fullest in our corporate offices may, indeed, still have untapped opportunity (lack of sufficient role models, exclusion from the informal network, and not having a sponsor in upper management to create opportunities), but it does appear that significant progress is being made with promotion of women to the executive ranks. And, the better news is that we suspect that progress will continue. With our recent research on high-potential strategy (report planned for publication next month)2, when we asked survey respondents about their goals for their strategies, “increase diversity in our key leadership roles” was within the top five responses.

Conversations with these respondents further indicated that in this context, diversity largely meant women.In my earlier blog post, “Women Still Aren’t Making It To the Top” (January 2011), I referenced then the McKinsey study of the financial ROI of placing women in top leadership roles. That ROI impact hasn’t diminished. In fact, could it be the very reason – or at least one of them – why savvy companies are promoting women to their head seats?  Interesting isn’t though, the title of my blog posts between January 2011 and November 2011 are at polar opposites!  Yes, women are moving on up because as they drive macro-economic growth and make undeniable financial contributions to the success of their companies, what smart organization wouldn’t leverage their female A players in executive ranks?

Companies, if they truly wish to compete and thrive, are transforming their good intentions about gender diversity into action – and we’re seeing it happen globally. Has the transformation begun at your company?

I’m eager to hear about your stories of success in placing women in the executive ranks. Please write to me at

Until next time…..

1For more information, refer to the McKinsey & Company research, “Unlocking the Full Potential of Women in the US Economy”, 
2For more information, refer to “High-Impact High-Potential Strategy: Key Practices to Maximize the Performance of Top Leader Talent”, Bersin & Associates, Laci Loew, planned for publication December 2011.

Andrea Derler

Andrea Derler, Ph.D., joined Bersin by Deloitte in March 2015 and leads the Leadership & Succession Management research practice. She brings international work experience as leadership trainer & coach and a solid academic background to this role. Prior to joining Bersin, she collaborated closely with organizations in the USA as well as Europe in order to pursue practice-oriented leadership research. Andrea studied international management, organizational culture and integral leadership and facilitated leadership development efforts in a variety of industries. She holds a doctoral degree in Economics (Leadership & Organization), and a Master’s degree in Philosophy. Her work about leaders’ Ideal Employee recently received wide-spread media attention in Europe and was published in the Leadership & Organization Development Journal

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