CEO Mindset: Three ways women can break through the glass ceiling

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According to the Fortune 500 list published in May 2019, “33 of the companies on the ranking of highest-grossing firms will be led by female CEOs for the first time ever.” This made for a significant increase from 24 in the previous year owing to what research experts describe as “an uptick in the presence of women on boards”.

While the statistics above mirror a win for women in leadership and despite the increasing number of women who gain access to the workplace every year, the fact still holds true that there is a gender gap in the workplace, and especially at the top. The barriers that stand between women and leadership positions have not exactly changed over the years; however, the conditions differ for each woman and workplace.

This glass ceiling that stands firm between most women and C-suite positions is shored up by factors such as lack of support, unfair judgement especially against masculine standards, unconscious biases, an unrealistic need to be liked or accepted, and a lack of confidence to demand more. It is important also to add that work-life balance poses a great challenge to women’s rise to the top.

But how can women force their way through this glass ceiling to earn a seat at the table? Here are three approaches to begin with:

  1. Get a mentor: Younger women and especially those in junior roles need to look up to other women (more likely in senior roles) whose success stories they find inspiring.  It is advised to establish a relationship by contacting these women leaders, seeking their advice, observing their upward career trajectory, and picking relevant lessons to guide their own path. The sparsely populated space at the top can be filled when women in junior roles receive mentorship from women in leadership positions. Mentorship is effective when it starts early in a woman’s career and it is focused solely on guidance and career-related discussions.
  2. Don’t downplay achievements: Women have been conditioned, over the years, to trivialise their accomplishments and victories. In comparison to men, they are told to “tone down” their skills and capabilities. To shatter the glass ceiling, women need to set the misplaced humility aside and be comfortable bragging about their work. They should never be afraid to share their successes and update their social media profiles to accommodate their latest achievements.
  3. Participate in more leadership programmes: The need to increase the percentage of women in the population of business school classrooms cannot be overemphasised. And this also aligns with the urgent need to increase the number of executive education programmes that address the challenges that senior women leaders face. Through these programmes, women leaders can be equipped with contemporary tools and decision making and problem-solving skills to help them succeed at the top. Here at Lagos Business School, our Women in Leadership programme was developed in recognition of this need. The programme covers various management concepts, practical leadership essentials, and affords women leaders opportunities to share experiences.

Women need to take charge by ensuring they find a solid footing at the top, and organisations equally need to incorporate diversity in their workforce by being intentional about recruiting as many women as men in roles and across all levels.