Good has calculated that if things continue at their current rates, it will take 233 years before there are equal numbers of men and women CEOs in the Fortune 500. After Avon Products' Andrea Jung steps down as CEO this year, the Fortune 500 will have just 17 women CEOs.
With these kinds of statistics, it's no surprise that the glass ceiling metaphor hasn't disappeared. But Carli, the Wellesley professor, said the glass ceiling wrongly implies that women face a single, unknown obstacle at the pinnacle of their careers. Once the ceiling is shattered, the metaphor suggests, the path lies open for all women.
A labyrinth, on the other hand, acknowledges that there are many different paths to the top, and with persistence and hard work many women can make it through, Carli said. Instead of smashing the ceiling, the goal is to break down the labyrinth's high walls so that women emerge with the same opportunity that men do: a road with hills and valleys.
"Passage through a labyrinth is not simple or direct, but requires persistence, awareness of one's progress and a careful analysis of the puzzles that lie ahead," Carli and Alice Eagly, a Northwestern University professor, wrote in a 2007 Harvard Business Review article.
To ensure that women don't get stuck in the labyrinth or hit the glass ceiling, experts say several things must happen. For starters, companies need to set up metrics to ensure that qualified women get promotions to top jobs. Doing this will not only help women but also improve companies' bottom lines, studies have shown.
Women also need to step up by changing the way they pursue their careers, said Good of Little PINK Book. She urges women to document their successes, build relationships with key corporate leaders and ask for the pay raises and jobs they want.
"Women are not asking for the opportunities," Good said. "Be part of the conversation."
In the past three years, Catalyst has seen a growing number of CEOs sponsor female executives by recommending them for key assignments, making sure their achievements are noticed by other senior executives, providing career guidance and taking other steps to ensure that women don't get overlooked for promotions.
MARY BARRA THRIVES AT GM:
It's been a little more than a year since Mary Barra took on one of the most important jobs at General Motors: senior vice president for global product development.
Barra, 50, is the first woman in the auto industry to oversee the design and engineering of new cars and trucks. She is also one of three women on GM's 20-member executive committee.
"The year has flown by," Barra said. "I have told (CEO) Dan Akerson that I think I got the best job in the company."
She should know. Barra has held a number of positions in her 32-year career at the automaker, from the manager of its Hamtramck assembly plant to vice president of global manufacturing engineering and, most recently, vice president of global human resources. She began working at GM as a General Motors Institute (now Kettering University) co-op student in its former Pontiac division at 18.
Ask Barra if she has faced any career obstacles and she will tell you, "No." She also doesn't believe being a woman has given her any special advantages.
"It's about knowing your business and working hard," said Barra, who has a bachelor's degree in electrical engineering and an MBA. "I don't look at it as a gender issue."
She advises women who do encounter roadblocks in their jobs to "either change that or move on. The worst thing in the world is to stay in that position. Life's too short."
A mother of two, Barra shares household responsibilities with her husband, who also works; they also have other help. Barra is usually traveling somewhere in the world one week every month.
"Some days I do it well," Barra said of juggling work and family. "Some days I don't do it as well as I should."
She hopes that one day there will be more women in jobs like hers.
"It starts with attracting young women in junior and senior high school to the math and sciences," she said.
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