Breaking Through the Glass Ceiling: Strategies for Female Executives

Breaking Through the Glass Ceiling: Strategies for Female Executives was originally published on Ivy Exec.

From 2015 to 2021, the number of women in executive positions across all sectors grew from 27.1 to 31.7 percent.

However, we are still a ways off from gender parity, as women comprise 47.4 percent of the American workforce. What’s more, women make up only 42.1 percent of managerial roles. 

Wiley also reports that women hold only 23 percent of C-Suite leadership roles. 

Why does it matter if women are in executive-level positions? 

For one, women are effective leaders. During COVID, for instance, female leaders were more empathetic and willing to listen, more likely to be transformational leaders, and more likely to make tough calls, like issuing stay-at-home orders, Wiley says. 

What’s more, women in high-paying executive roles may positively influence the gender pay gap.

“Achieving a more even gender balance at the highest-paid levels could have an impact on the gender pay gap. 

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, women in the U.S. made 82.3 cents for every dollar paid to a man in 2020, a figure that rose by just 1.3 cents over the previous 15 years,” explained Chris Gilligan for U.S. News & World Report

Several factors keep women from breaking through the glass ceiling into high-level executive roles. 

As INSEAD Business School told Ivy Exec, some hiring managers “might say that a female candidate does not have the right management style, but sometimes the issue is just that people aren’t used to a woman in the role. Second-generation bias causes many people to believe a woman is being abrasive or bossy when she behaves like a manager.”

As difficult as it is for professionals of any gender to secure executive roles, women must also struggle to break through the glass ceiling. If you envision an executive role in your future, how can you ensure your success?


👩‍💼 Seek employment at companies that support women.

It may be more difficult to land a leadership role at an organization that doesn’t already employ many female leaders.

Companies without women in leadership may not have effective recruitment and retention practices, or they may participate in “glass cliff” hiring, where women are hired in times of crisis but are not given resources to be successful. 

When researching organizations to work for, women can explore Ledbetter, an online platform that shares information about “equality in leadership.” 

Another reason women are less able to move into executive roles is that oftentimes, they are responsible for more domestic responsibilities than their male partners. Specifically, women may choose less intense jobs if they have children. 

So, women with children should look for companies that support them. 

“Employers can show allyship by offering childcare assistance, flexible family leaves policies, and other policies designed to give women the freedom they need to both achieve proper work-life balance and successfully advance their career paths. Making these investments can also help employers retain talent and stem the increased turnover rates caused by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic,” Wiley suggests.


👩‍💼 Find a mentor who will keep you abreast of internal openings.

Mentors are an important way to promote by being invited into networks that will, in turn, give them the connections they need.

These networks also inform workers about job openings. 

However, women may not always have the professional connections and networks that their male colleagues enjoy. 

“The study showed that women were less likely than men to say they’ve received tangible support from managers in attaining higher-level leadership positions despite being equally likely to share those aspirations. Female managers were also less likely than male managers to say employees in their company are made aware of internal job openings,” wrote Matt Gonzales for SHRM.

So, seek professional connections at your organization. Whether you meet regularly with a cohort or build relationships with another female leader, forging these connections is a smart way to secure a leadership role.


👩‍💼 Believe that you can achieve your goals.

One of the factors that keep women stuck is they are more risk-averse than men.

This can translate into deciding not to apply for high-powered jobs or negotiate salaries. 

So, women need to recognize their natural psychological or cultural self-beliefs and aim to overcome them in the workplace. If you’re not being assertive throughout your career, you may not progress enough to land an executive role. 

“Women often start off neglecting to negotiate a better compensation package. This happens because we don’t know our worth. Women need to do the leg work to find out what others are making in the company or in the field. This is oftentimes not readily available information, but it is still worth trying to find it,” said Forbes contributor Terina Allen.


Breaking through the Glass Ceiling


Since 2015, more women have moved into executive roles in the United States.

Though they still face barriers, women can be proactive in securing employment at gender-equitable organizations and finding mentors who will support them in their careers. 

What’s more, women need to believe in their worth and value. Men are riskier in their workplace behaviors – which may lead to higher pay and more perks. In turn, women should use similar tactics to demonstrate, as Allen notes, “their power to lead.”

By Ivy Exec
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