Learning To Lead: A Stubborn Glass Ceiling & Having a Go at Shattering It

Jaclyn Crawford Issue 14 - Nov/Dec 2014 Leave a Comment

With a dwindling percentage of workers willing to dream big, companies reveal steps they are taking to minimize misconceptions about climbing the corporate ladder

When adults ask children, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” children usually respond with big, wild dreams of being an astronaut, doctor or rock star. As respondents grow up, these dreams shift to fit interests and further education. Ideal careers become one of success, climbing up the corporate ladder, and ultimately leadership.

According to a recent CareerBuilder study, fewer people are dreaming big. Only 34 percent of workers aspire to leadership positions; of those, merely 7 percent aim for C-Suite management seats. At first glance, these new findings leave some executives, like Tobias Lee, Chief Marketing Officer (CMO) at Thomson Reuters, surprised.

“In my conversations with people here at work, I certainly see a higher percentage of people expressing interest to rise up to a leadership position,” Lee said. “So the statistics were surprising to me.”

Looking deeper, Lee understands that there could be many variables impacting the traditional idea of climbing the corporate ladder, such as a new generation of employees valuing telecommuting.

“There’s a good point here about the work-life balance component and how that’s driving more people to stay either where they’re at or not at the uber-executive level. And I can understand that point. There may be some correlation between the increased prevalence for people to work remotely and the need for executives, in some companies, to be at the office impacting people in their desire to move up,” Lee said.

The study’s data also shows that 52 percent of workers are satisfied in their current roles and that 34 percent do not want to sacrifice work-life balance.



Breaking the Glass Ceiling

For Jocelyn Wong, CMO at Family Dollar, these findings did not come as a surprise. She suggests the value of having a work-life balance has become increasingly important, especially for women.

“With moms even today, there’s this whole resurgence of going back almost to the 1950s mentality and women wanting to think about the quality of life,” Wong said. “Women are believing that there are certain things you will have to give up when you go down that [executive] path, and therefore they don’t want that.”

For women and minorities, another factor can be what’s been dubbed the glass ceiling. One in five workers said they feel the organization they work for has this unseen barrier preventing advancement.

“If in fact all members of the management team are middle-aged Caucasian men, that says something to you,” Lee said. “Perception-wise, there is an influence there.”

He went on to stress the importance of having employee resource groups (ERGs) to aid in the perceived glass ceiling. At Thomson Reuters, they refer to their ERGs as BRGs, or business resource groups, that drive change on behalf of a group toward a business goal. Lee sits as the executive sheriff of the Asian-American BRG.

“BRGs certainly help employees feel like they have support. The company has the focus to make that a priority and not let any glass ceilings dictate,” Lee said.

Currently, 27 percent of employers have an initiative to support females pursuing leadership, and 26 percent have initiatives supporting minorities.

For women, Wong said that the glass ceilings may not always be due to internal company structure, but external factors as well.

“I would say it’s fifty-fifty. There is an element that the data doesn’t lie. I am in retail—talk about an old boys’ club,” Wong said. “But there is the other half that I think society and women inflict on themselves. For whatever reason, I think women are so much more judgmental about this path then men are.”

She cites conversations with colleagues and friends asking, “Can women have it all?” Many say the decision to move up in leadership is personal to every woman, but there is also the belief that being in the C-Suite, women are asked to give up time spent raising a family.

“It’s almost like we’ve shut off the path before even making it available to us, and being in control of our own choices,” Wong said. “There are a ton of male CEOs [Chief Executive Officers.] No one ever bats an eye at or wonders how close he is with his children. I’ve never been in a conversation about the work/life balance of any male CEO.”


Born To Lead

But as the study indicates, leadership may not be for everyone. Lee recommends for managers and employees to think of how we are redefining what leadership means though opportunities and expectation.

“There are stereotypes that go into what today’s view is. The company also has to find ways to celebrate that position, the impact on the company, and excite the employee base that being a leader in the company isn’t about making more money,” Lee conveyed. “It is about staying true to the company brand promise that hopefully employees believe in.” ♦


Jaclyn Crawford

Managing Editor at Forefront Magazine
Jaclyn Crawford is the Managing Editor at Forefront. Jaclyn is a graduate of Columbia College Chicago.

Jaclyn currently resides in the Wicker Park neighborhood of Chicago. In her free time, she likes to travel with her husband, play badminton, and find new coffee shops around the city.

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