Breaking the Glass Ceiling

“The challenge is not a glass ceiling, but rather a sticky floor”

Signs of Progress

Women have long been fighting an uphill battle towards achieving workplace equality, such as equal pay and promotion opportunities. Have women come close to breaking the infamous glass ceiling? Studies have shown that not only is notable progress being made, but in some regards women are on track to outpace their male counterparts.

Today, more women are receiving post-secondary degrees compared to men by a ratio of approximately three to two. In addition, women’s earnings have grown by 44% in real dollars from 1970 to 2007, while the growth rate for men has been 6%. The stats don’t stop there – according to a study by Bloomberg News in 2009, “16 female CEOs of Standard and Poor’s 500 Index had earnings that were 43% higher than the earnings of male CEOs” and they also received an annual raise of 19% during the recession while male CEOs experienced a 5% cut.

These are a few sure signs of how women are steadily making progress towards gender equality in the workplace.


While progress has indeed been made, the battle is still far from being won. Research by Alison Konrad from the Richard Ivey School of Business and Margaret Yap from the Ted Rogers School of Management explains how “the challenge is not a glass ceiling, but rather a sticky floor”.  Konrad and Yap found that despite women comprising 46.7% of the workforce in the United States, it is more difficult for women in the bottom or middle layers of an organization to be promoted compared to their male counterparts. Interestingly, there was no difference between promotion opportunities for men and women in the upper echelons of an organization.

So while progress is being made for women in executive positions, it’s a tough road to get there. The great thing is that a lot of research is being conducted about the value that women bring to organizations. For example, studies by Deloitte and McKinsey illustrate that gender can link to firm value and that hiring female executives is beneficial for a company’s bottom line.

Plenty of organizations are also taking notice of the important role women play in advancing organizations and business strategies. At last year’s World Economic Forum, the summit leaders asked their strategic partners to send one woman for every five executives they sent to the summit. This relayed a strong message to the business community about the summit’s goal to further incorporate women into the business sphere. It is imperative that the corporate world continues to understand how women can empower business until it becomes the norm for women to attend such summits without it being mandated. The World Economic Forum was sponsored by large global companies such as Google, Barclays, General Electric, and Nike.


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