What do Victoire Dogbé (Togo), Rose Raponda (Gabon), Sahle Zewde (Ethiopia), Saara Kuugongelwa (Namibia), Aeenah Guri (Mauritius), Aminata Touré (Senegal), Cissé Sidibé (Mali) and Ellen Sirleaf (Liberia) have in common?
Have you found out?
What if I told you more famous names such as Indira Gandhi (India), Golda Meir (Israel), Isabel Perón (Argentina), Margaret Thatcher (United Kingdom), Benazir Bhutto (Pakistan), Angela Merkel (Germany), Dilma Roussef (Brazil), Theresa May (United Kingdom), Jacinda Ardern (New Zealand) and Luísa Diogo (Mozambique)?
You got it right!
They were and are women who, outside of the monarchical succession, and following the tradition started by Khertek Anchimaa-Toka (Tannu-Tuva) in 1940, are part of a long list1 of women elected to the highest public positions in their nations. In the same vein, but at the private level, names like Katharine Graham, the first female CEO (Washington Post Company), along with Karen Lynch (CVS Health), Jane Fraser (Citigroup), and Linda Rendle (Clorox) are examples of female CEOs of Fortune 500 companies.
They all have in common the fact that they have managed to break the “Glass Ceiling” that insists on keeping the female gender out of the exercise of power.
In this article, which I started writing on Mozambican Women’s Day, I invite you to analyse the phenomenon called Glass Ceiling (TV), in which we will see successively:
1- What is the phenomenon “Glass Ceilings”?
2- What are its causes?
3- What effects does it produce in organisations?
1- What is it and how does it manifest itself?
I suggest the following definition of “Glass Ceilings”: – A set of invisible barriers, predominantly cultural. – That prevent women from reaching more advanced and top positions in organisations.
For example: In December 2017, women held 29 (5.8%) of CEO positions in S&P 500 companies. By December 2019, they occupied 30 (6%) of CEO positions in S&P 500 companies. At the end of 2020, they occupied 7.8% of CEO positions. In this context – our calculation – if this very slow rate of growth continues (2% every three years) we will need + 63 years to reach parity (i.e. 50%) of CEO positions. – And only because they are women.
For example: according to Fortune magazine, only 3% black women are CEOs of S&P 500 companies.
2- What are your causes?
I challenge my reader(s) to question their prejudices by answering the following quick survey (results shown in footnote) on the causes of TV. Indicate with True (V) or False (F):
(a) Discrimination (V/F).
b) The fact that women are not as ambitious (V/F).
c) Who decides on promotions usually favours behaviours more commonly shown by male leaders (V/F).
d) Lack of regulations on gender equality and quotas in management positions (V/F).
e) Men are better at fighting for visibility and promoting their views (V/F).
f) Women are judged and evaluated more harshly than men (V/F).
g) Men are more confident in leadership roles when things are difficult (T/F).
h) Women lack courage (V/F).
i) Men tend to be less emotional than women (V/F).
j) Women are not competitive enough (V/F).
k) Men in leadership generally perform better than women in leadership (V/F).
l) Women with leadership potential generally need different development and training options than men (V/F).
Are you surprised by its results?
3- What effects does it have on organisations?
Beyond the important effects on the individual (stress; isolation; low self-esteem; anxiety), I am interested in highlighting, a contrario sensu, the economic effects of this phenomenon.
– A study carried out by the Peterson Institute for International Economics, which analysed 21 980 global companies in 91 countries in 2016, found that companies with a minimum of 30% women in leadership positions recorded increases of 15% in net margin.
– And a finding: it is certainly no accident this positive correlation: in the top 5 countries with the best Human Development Index we find countries such as Norway (Gro Harlem Brundtlan, eight years as Prime Minister. Erna Solberg, seven years as Prime Minister), and Iceland (Jóhanna Siguroardóttir, four years as Prime Minister. Katrin Jakobsdótir, three years as Prime Minister), countries with a very strong tradition of female leadership.
In conclusion. The fight against the adverse impacts at the level of countries (e.g., at the level of the Human Development Index), of companies (e.g., at the level of profitability and ROE) and of individuals (e.g., at the level of mental health) resulting from these invisible barriers that hinder the advancement of women, just because they are women, must be carried out on three fronts:
– At the level of women themselves: in order for them to become more aware of the issue and realise that their instinct to protect others, often at the expense of themselves and avoiding conflict, is their greatest adversary in the fight against VT.
– at the level of organisations: in order to carry out programmes of cultural transformation and to strengthen the leadership skills of the female gender and not to tolerate bullying behaviour.
– at the level of society in general: to break the stereotypes of the fragile, emotionally volatile and fearful woman. For there is no longer patience for a long wait of another 63 years for the glass ceiling to be completely broken.