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Shattering the Glass Ceiling: A Strategy for Survival

by Mauricio Velasquez

THE FACTS

Last year, the Federal Glass Ceiling Commission released a report stating that only 7%-9% of senior managers at Fortune 1000 firms are women. (Korn-Ferry and Catalyst). This is compelling, considering women make up almost one half of the nation's workforce. Highly educated and/or experienced women face their biggest challenges at upper levels of corporations. As a result, they have been known to disproportionately cluster in "white collar ghettos" or the bottom tiers of management and lowest paying industries. Well-qualified women face barriers spawning from stereotypes or preconceptions (81%), employers who feel an aversion to taking a risk by hiring a female (49%), or not carefully planning their careers or job assignments to benefit them. Most astounding, a recent survey found that less then 1% of CEOs see the development of high potential women as a priority.

THE COSTS

If a company chooses to continue to exclude qualified women from top management positions it is most probable that they will find themselves unable to compete in an increasingly diversified marketplace and will lose an extraordinary amount of talent, creativity and productivity. Women today are leaving the corporate sector in vast numbers-twice the rate of men. They are not leaving to tend to their families but rather to seek positions that are more satisfying and rewarding or start up their own business. According to a study released last year by the National Foundation for Women Business Owners, women own approximately 7.7 million firms; an increase of 43% since 1990. Women are forming new businesses at double the rate of men. In turn, big companies are losing valuable players. This loss is becoming more and more costly to organizations that have invested time and money in their employees. It would serve both organizations and women to reexamine the obstacles that prevent females from advancing and from being valued in the workplace.

WHAT WOMEN CAN DO

You need to know what you want and must clearly define your goals and priorities. Develop strong relationships with others in the company, focusing on those individuals with high authority. Ask these people for feedback on their performance and then make it a point to act on their recommendations. Improve creditability by taking on challenging assignments that are visible to upper management. Document every successful assignment completed and the positive impact your efforts had on the organization. Present these during your review. Become knowledgeable of the less quantifiable criteria for evaluation such as personality, loyalty, networking etc.

WHAT MANAGEMENT SHOULD DO

Management must learn to recognize and appreciate gender differences as positive qualities which can serve as assets for the organization. They must loose their preoccupation with old male-oriented procedures. For example, instead of meeting over drinks, meet for breakfast or as a group. Males and females differ in their communicative approaches. Therefore, permit each individual to talk through a situation in their own way, at their own pace. Don't allow emotions to get in the way of good judgment. Most importantly, implement a program that eliminates cultural and structural biases. Examine organizational design, staffing and performance reward systems. Incorporate mentoring programs for women and minorities and hold managers acceptable for initiatives by rewarding only those who successfully meet the goals of the program.

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