Glass ceiling cracked -- but not shattered

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

While this issue of Business Today celebrates the great strides that women have made in the workplace, make no mistake about it -- the glass ceiling still exists.

The glass ceiling, of course, describes an invisible "ceiling" which serves as a road block on the women's progress up the hierarchy.

There's no question that the women featured in this issue -- Jean Mason of AmerenUE, Marsha Haskell of SBC, Kathy Swan of JCS-TEL-LINK and Kathy Kraemer of RSC Equipment Rental, to name a few -- have helped crack the so-called glass ceiling.

There have been a lot of positive changes. But men still grab more than their share of money and power in the American workplace. In many ways, women are not still seen as equals by society at large.

Here's the biggest example. Though women make up about half of the American workforce and hold about half of the managerial positions, they earn just 73 percent of what men in the same job get and hold only 5 percent of the country's top-paying posts.

Just eight of the Fortune 500 companies have women CEOs. And, of course, outside of that new Gina Davis show, a woman has never sat behind the big desk in the Oval Office.

Dr. Mary Johnson is a professor of business law at Southeast Missouri State University. Every year, in the spring, she takes a group of women to the Sue Shear Institute at the University of Missouri-St. Louis. The institute is dedicated to teaching young future business women how to get ahead in public life.

Johnson admits it's not easy.

"I think that there is still that glass ceiling that exists," said Johnson, a business woman herself who co-owns Memories Made in Missouri and More in downtown Cape Girardeau. "It hasn't been shattered."

She points out that women have come a long way in recent decades. There are more women in middle management than ever before. But making it all the way to the top ... well, that's a little harder.

"Unless a woman starts her own company, which more and more are doing," she said.

But the big question is why? Why can't women seem to take that next step? What's stopping them? Is there still a prejudice? Sexism? Are they seen as too soft? Too emotional? Unreliable? Indecisive?

There's been a lot of research to figure out why, Johnson said. But there has been no definitive answer.

"I don't think anybody has been able to come up with an answer," she said. "If they had, women would have done something about it. The jury is still out on that question."

Johnson said that the stereotypes that came to my mind -- seeing women as overly emotional, not as hard-edged, etc. -- has to be part of the problem, though. Those are the stereotypes that women are trying to break.

"That's part of the glass ceiling: the stereotypical labels that we put on people," she said. "I don't think it's healthy to keep labeling women. We have to start looking at people as individuals."

Johnson warns women in business not to be resentful and just to keep working to get ahead.

"Getting a negative attitude will not get you anywhere," she said. "Attitude has a lot to do with getting you to the top."

A new book on the subject, "Stop Whining & Start Winning," by Molly Dickinson Shepard, also offers working women these tips:

* Speak up in business meetings -- and don't wait too long to get in a decisive, briefly worded opinion.

* Stick to the big picture -- and keep the details to yourself. Details are what make men think women "ramble." (That's even good advice for me and more than a few of my male colleagues.)

* Never show anger at work. You won't get your message across if you get shrill.

* When you're in charge and the decision is yours to make, don't solicit everyone's opinion.

* Don't allow yourself to feel wounded by words of criticism at work.

The stories you are about to read will reveal women who are working hard, pounding away, making crack after crack after crack. It's true the glass ceiling hasn't been shattered.

Not yet.

Scott Moyers is editor of Business Today. Contact him at smoyers@semissourian.com or 335-6611, extension 137.

Respond to this story

Posting a comment requires free registration: