Advancing Beyond the Ceiling: : The Gender Barrier Effect on Women's Advancement in Fortune 500 (F500) Firms

Advancing Beyond the Ceiling: : The Gender Barrier Effect on Women's Advancement in Fortune 500 (F500) Firms

by Olutoyin Oyelade


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Advancing Beyond the Ceiling: : The Gender Barrier Effect on Women's Advancement in Fortune 500 (F500) Firms by Olutoyin Oyelade

For too long the subject of a glass ceiling on women’s careers has dominated corporate sector debates and engaged practitioners’ attention. Scholars ascribe the many travails of females’ aspiring to top level roles to invisible barriers and hurdles that senior leaders failed to acknowledge, yet corporations have been known to suffer dire financial consequences for shutting women out of the corner office. Interactions with supervisors and juniors indicate that there are recurring limitations that could negate the core ethics of the workplace. While stakeholders in the public and private sectors continue to propose solutions and advocate for palliative and remedial steps to address the visible and invisible ceilings on female career progress, the number of female CEOs remain significantly unchanged.

The question is why are only a few corporations pushing an agenda that seems to be the panacea to firm performance and sustainability? And why have the early warning signals of gender inequality remained in corporate corridors— 40 years after the glass ceiling was identified? Advancing Beyond the Ceiling deviates from the traditional approach of limiting the gender barrier dilemma to societal, natural, and organizational practices. The book researches into other imposed limitations, including issues of self-esteem, character traits, and male dominance that could stall women’s advancement. The author proposes reasons for females to spearhead their advancement through scholarship, partnership, mentorship, and sponsorship, amongst other practices in their quest to break the glass ceiling.

As a C-level executive in the banking sector till 2010, and now the Founder of an investment firm post-2010, the author explores the struggles, setbacks, and stockades that limit senior to middle female officers in their career trajectory…

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781524653279
Publisher: AuthorHouse
Publication date: 08/26/2017
Pages: 262
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.59(d)

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One Barrier: Diverse PeOPle

Over the years, the subject of gender-based barriers has continued to generate a high level of interest and stimulates robust debate across vertical sectors of management practice and academia due to its influence on career advancement and gender diversity. The gender barrier issue elicits the interest of stakeholders in the private and public sectors because of its perceived limitations to women's advancement to top teams. These challenges and their effect on organizations, particularly the Fortune 500 companies (F500), have become one of the most discussed and researched constructs in literature. There are divergent positions on the reasons for women's absence in U.S. F500 top leadership. These views range from those who advocate male-dominance in top teams, including those backed by organizational structural issues, to an inadequacy of women's qualifications and skills for the position to which they aspire, and the issue of female incapacity, amongst others. There are also limitations that arise from traditional business practices that place women in supportive rather than leadership roles, irrespective of their career achievements and track record. The ensuing consequences vary for both the organization and its workers. Practitioners find that women who feel dissatisfied with their perceived relegation by these practices not only miss their promotional benefits, but also might intentionally jeopardize the growth of the firm since they are unfulfilled in their career expectations.

Furthermore, inquiries from field experts and senior corporate managers on the gender barrier topic indicate that policy deficiency and organization structural gaps constitute the main bane to female advancement in F500 firms. The experts cited different cases of disgruntled senior women who failed to offer meaningful advice to leadership when armed with information that could avert a crisis in the firm because of their work environment. These potential female leaders did not adequately defend their organizations, where possible, due to a perception that management had failed to advance their cause while others simply resigned due to the frustrations experienced in the course of their duties. Several authors cited the case of Anne-Marie Slaughter (2012), who resigned from her position as Director of Policy planning under Hilary Clinton due to the bureaucratic bottlenecks and structural imbalances that limited her aspiration to balance her career and family. Slaughter presented cases of top women officials in the public sector to prove that gender barriers and structural imbalances were likely to affect women with families in their pursuit of career advancement and senior positions. Slaughter further inferred that some of these women who reached the highest position in their careers could not keep their jobs due to deficiencies in policy, structure, and practices. Some of these senior leaders left their positions in frustration as a result of these gaps. According to Slaughter:

I have been blessed to work with and be mentored by some extraordinary women. Watching Hillary Clinton in action makes me incredibly proud — of her intelligence, expertise, professionalism, charisma, and command of any audience. I get a similar rush when I see a front-page picture of Christine Lagarde, the managing director of the International Monetary Fund, and Angela Merkel, the chancellor of Germany, deep in conversation about some of the most important issues on the world stage; or of Susan Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, standing up forcefully for the Syrian people in the Security Council. These women are extraordinary role models. If I had a daughter, I would encourage her to look to them, and I want a world in which they are extraordinary but not unusual. Yet I also want a world in which, in Lisa Jackson's words, "to be a strong woman, you don't have to give up on the things that define you as a woman."

From the above statement, Slaughter infers that if organizational policies and practices are not intentional and deliberately targeted towards addressing the professional and domestic roles of women, then females might be hindered from performing their roles as mothers. Furthermore, until the leaders of organizations provide some direction to implement favorable work/life balance policies, the effectiveness and efficiency of females at work might be jeopardized. The implication of this is a direct cut on the number of qualified candidates that could aspire to the top echelon of leadership both in the government and private sector. Slaughter suggested that these challenges required urgent correction to bridge gender imbalances in the workplace and to achieve positive and sustainable career growth for women in organizations. Slaughter concluded that women were more disadvantaged in pursuing their career goals than males as a result of managing both professional and domestic obligations, while pursuing advancement to top teams in F500s.

The practitioner perspectives of Slaughter lends credence to the career advancement dilemma that women continue to encounter due to barriers to top management team (TMT) diversity. However, social science experts including Hewlett (2013) offered a different position on the gender barrier issue. Hewlett attributed the limitations to women's advancement to a sponsorship gap in their career progression. In her view, sponsorship of females to top positions would achieve rapid advancement and secure several promotions that years of skills and qualifications would not. Moreover, writers of popular literature, such as Sandberg (2013) noted that ambition fuels women's advancement. Sandberg asserted that women who aspire to become leaders, and are passionate and purposeful about their ambition eventually advance beyond workplace ceilings. Her assertions stem from her career experience in male dominated top teams and the skills she applied to rise above the organization-imposed limitations within those groups.

Sandberg's book is reputed to be a call to action for women to develop the will to lead. According to Sandberg "Career progression often depends upon taking risks and advocating for oneself — traits that girls are discouraged from exhibiting. ...". Sandberg alludes to the age long saying that women appear to be their worst enemies, as they are usually unsupportive and competitive within groups. In Sandberg's words:

One of the conflicts inherent in having choices is that we all make different ones. There is always an opportunity cost, and I don't know any women who feel comfortable with all her decisions. As a result, we inadvertently hold that discomfort against those who remind us of the path not taken. Guilt and insecurity makes us second-guess ourselves and, in turn, resent one another.

To support the above position, Madeline Albright, former U.S. Secretary of State, described the current rate of female career development trajectory as an injustice to women orchestrated by an uninformed society. She suggested that the ratio is even more worrying when viewed against the few women who get to the top and have a capacity to promote others but refuse to do so.

The debate continues on why senior women refuse to train and mentor other women, while those in senior roles are sometimes unable to attain, retain, or sustain their leadership roles. However, scholars and practitioners agree that many unresolved policy, structural, and traditional challenges will limit women from reaching top positions in corporations.

Perspectives on Gender Barriers

Research experts found that gender diversity in F500s continued a slow trajectory contrary to the statistical data presented by the Catalyst between 2004 and 2013. A review of the Catalyst's (2013) research on the topic of gender- based barriers to women's advancement indicated that previous studies had focused mainly on the causative factors of low gender diversity. However, new research seemed to target an examination of barrier reduction strategies to achieve a balanced gender diversity that could effectively advance women's careers in organizations. In this regard, authors including Guittard (2012), Davies (2011), and Proudford (2009) argued that womenadvancement goals set by top corporations were precedent upon an elimination of gender-based barriers.

Similarly, scholars such as Erhardt, Werbel, and Shrader (2003), Hewlett (2013), Helfat, Harris, and Wolfson (2006), Higgs (2003), and Hymowitz (2005) presented several articulations of the gender barrier issue and their influence on women's career growth and firm performance. These researchers recommended the enabling factors under which women could begin to advance beyond the identified ceilings. The above evidence suggested that many obstacles limited the advancement of senior women to leadership positions in F500s. The long-term implication of these gaps was the loss of the values and benefits that women's inclusion might have added to top leadership. Research findings indicated that these values had a potential to enhance corporate decision-making towards improved firm performance (Carter, D'Souza, Simkins, & Simpson, 2010). This book investigated the various scholarly positions on the causes and practices that facilitate gender barriers in subsequent chapters with a view to proposing remedial and palliative measures in corporations.

Current Status of Gender Diversity

First, a review of the trajectory of gender diversity in the workplace is imperative for better insights on the subject. The question is how have women fared in the workplace over the years and how did they get to this juncture in their career development history? The Catalyst (2013) reported that the research projections on improvements in firm gender diversity have failed to materialize because of the barriers that continued to impede its growth. The authors reported that as of 2013, less than four percent of CEOs in the U.S. F500s were women. Although, 2014 saw an increase of this percentage to 5.2%, the rate of growth was below research projections. The report attributed the slow growth of women's advancement to a partial implementation of gender-gap corrective measures by management stakeholders, thereby jeopardizing the targeted ratios (Catalyst, 2013; Fortune 500, 2013; Leahey, Fairchild, & Zarya, 2013). Moreover, non-compliance with the remedial gender practices initiated by regulators and practitioners accounted for the continued diversity gaps. These remedial steps included gender ratio compliance reports, leadership diversity composition rate, and monthly gender reports to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (USSEC). Pew Research (2008) and Patten and Parker (2012) asserted that F500 leaders should explicate the benefits and consequences of gender barriers to practitioners to pave the way for its resolution.

Similarly, the report on women's board occupancy ratio was low. Women on U.S. boards accounted for only 15.7% (Fortune 500, 2013 & Fairchild, 2014) of the board seats in top firms despite the efforts of the U.S Glass Ceiling Commission (USGC, 1995) to correct these gender ratios. The Catalyst (2004; 2011; 2013; & 2014), Fairchild (2014), and Leahey et al. (2013) concluded that gender-based barriers that impeded women's advancement to top teams include unfavorable practices, lack of policy initiatives and execution by F500 leadership, gaps in sponsorship, and other traditional barriers categorized under the glass ceiling (or glass barriers). These behaviors appeared to follow a long history of traditional management policies, which owners of long existing F500s found suitable for organizational management. For instance, scholarly literature and historical trends from the early 1900s denoted that barriers such as discrimination, bias, and prejudices characterized women's career trajectory due to some of the traditional practices encouraged by the firm's leadership (Helfat et al., 2006). Helfat et al. cited the case of a rising female writer whose publishers almost barred from publishing her book due to a long history of gender-based barriers. As far back as 1914, Lilian Gilbreth (n.d.), a student of Fredrick Taylor's scientific management principles, could not launch her book as a woman because society expected her to be home raising kids (Helfat et al., 2006). Gilbreth was a victim of the limitations imposed by a culture of male dominance even though she was an accomplished writer who had contributed immensely to the body of management knowledge in her time (Helfat et al., 2006).

Furthermore, Hymowitz (2005) averred that despite research findings and evidence to the contrary since 1914, the assumption that women lacked leadership skills due to gaps in style, competency, qualifications, and expertise continued to constitute limitations to their career aspirations. Hymowitz (2005) leaned on the evidence from earlier theorists, including Mead (1934) and Carlyle (1993), to explicate the reason for gender-based barriers. Mead (1934) and Carlyle (1993) alluded to societal and natural influences that limited the roles that women played in the society. Given the evidence of structured organizational and management practices, these limitations have now evolved into invisible barriers, called the glass ceiling, and are hampering the career growth of women (Hymowitz & Schellhardt, 1986; Howard, 2012).

Researchers defined the "glass ceiling" as a dominant limitation to gender diversity in top corporations. A review of the research for Advancing beyond the Ceiling demonstrated that most of the glass ceiling barriers were not easily addressed and resolved by practitioners and organizational policy makers due to their invisible nature (Eagly & Carli, 2008). Although, management stakeholders had initiated several private and public sector interventionist strategies to address these obstacles, the gender barrier issues continued to stall women's promotion to the top. However, the identification of the glass ceiling barriers by Bryant in 1985 brought to fore a need for these stakeholders, including academic scholars, practitioners, government agencies, and F500 leaders, to propose palliative measures that could eliminate the ceilings that hindered the advancement of women to the top. The effect of the "invisible forces", described by Bryant (1985) became evident as women began to discuss their limitations to accessing top roles at work. Moreover, Eagly and Carli (2008) observed that F500 leadership could only address the gender-based issues in a few cases where the barriers became evident and stalled work processes. Therefore, gender experts, began to project an improvement in top team diversity following the above research findings and the efforts of government agencies to curtail its impact (USGC, 1995). From the above submittals, it becomes imperative that top-rated organizations answer the question of how F500 managers defined, understood, and implemented gender diversity tenets to reduce barriers and to advance its women employees successfully. This research examined the divergent position of scholars, practitioners, governmental and private sector institutions on gender barriers and its consequences on women's advancement in subsequent chapters.

Recent Developments on Gender-Based Barriers

Following the above evidence to the effect that gender-based barriers remain a limiting factor for female advancement in most top U.S corporations, researchers embarked on an investigation of the implications of these barriers. Further, investigations into gender-based obstacles were motivated by the reported setbacks to women's careers in U.S. top corporations, in addition to the evidence of a limited number of women in Top teams (Fortune 500, 2013; Pew Research, 2008; & Credit Suisse Research Institute, [CSRI], 2012). Advancing beyond the Ceiling discusses the results of this examination in other sections.


Excerpted from "Advancing Beyond the Ceiling"
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Copyright © 2017 Olutoyin Oyelade.
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Table of Contents

Preface, v,
Dedication, vii,
Acknowledgements, ix,
List of Tables, xv,
List of Figures, xvii,
Chapter 1: One Barrier: Diverse People, 1,
Chapter 2: When Barriers Refuse to Move, 28,
Chapter 3: The Results are In ... Top Seats Remain Elusive to Women, 64,
Chapter 4: Women Leaders Needed, 126,
Addendum, 155,
References, 195,
Endnotes, 217,
Appendix A: Additional Data on Gender Barriers and Research Protocols, 221,
Appendix B: Gender Diversity Statistics in U.S. Regions, 227,
Appendix C: F500s Expert Panel Feedback, 235,

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