Shattered: Business Administration’s Glass Ceiling

Women hold high-powered roles in today’s workplace. We examine the skills needed to excel in leadership roles for both males and females.

Since the 1980s, more women have successfully entered the workforce and risen to top positions. In today’s world, many women seek business administration degrees and work in high-level positions. Currently, 21 of the Fortune 500 companies have female CEOs, and that number is on the rise. In 2012, women held 51.5 percent of all management positions in the U.S. Have women broken through the glass ceiling? The answer to that question may not be so clear cut. 

The Glass Ceiling

The term “glass ceiling” refers to the invisible barrier that prohibits women and other minority groups from attaining upper-level positions, despite their qualifications or achievements. Although women have made great strides in achieving equality in the workplace, evidence of the glass ceiling can be seen in the nation’s persistent gender wage gap and slow growth rate of women who hold corporate board seats. Not to mention the fact that when women do hold managerial and executive positions, the majority of these positions are held by white women.

degree pay by gender


women financial pay share

Source: Liz Mulligan-Ferry, Morgan Friedrich, and Sabra Nathanson, 2011 Catalyst Census: Financial Post 500 Women Board Directors (Catalyst, 2012); Laura Jenner, Liz Mulligan-Ferry, and Rachel Soares, 2009 Catalyst Census: Financial Post 500 Women Board Directors (Catalyst, 2010); Laura Jenner, Monica Dyer, and Lilly Whitham, 2007 Catalyst Census of Women Board Directors of the FP500: Voices From the Boardroom (Catalyst, 2008); Catalyst, 2005 Catalyst Census of Women Board Directors of the FP500 (2006); and Catalyst, 2001 Catalyst Census of Women Board Directors of Canada (2001).

diversity in business management

Some experts, however, argue that the glass ceiling does not exist and never did exist; they posit that wage discrepancies and the lack of female board members are, to an extent, more resultant on personal choice. Facebook chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg offers three main points of advice for women in the workplace in her new book, “Lean In.” Essentially, it boils down to having confidence in yourself, not planning for children until having a child is imminent, and not being afraid to act; or to “lean in,” if you will.

In step with this theory, Regina E. Herzlinger, professor at the Harvard Business School, argues that there is no glass ceiling; there is only women’s fear of entering a business career due to the perception that they could not rise far in the field. She puts forth that this initial lack of female business candidates in the pipeline is to blame for the delayed rise of the female CEO. Herzlinger looks to the 44 percent rise in female business owners (that’s twice the growth seen by male business owners) as evidence that the glass ceiling is not with us. She also dismisses concerns about female board members by looking to her own experience. “The main reason for the gender gap on corporate boards may be that many women in business, who have plenty of confidence and ability, simply do not want to serve,” she writes. However, Herzlinger does admit that sexism and the “old boys’ club” are still alive and well in the workplace.

Natalie M. Strouse, CPA and Associate Professor of Account at Notre Dame College, believes that equality at home is the best indicator of equality in the workplace. “Increasingly men are making the decision to stay at home with the children,” she states, “It is no longer just a ‘woman’s place.’ As the equality between men and women increase in the home, it will translate into an equality in the workplace.”

Female Bosses

Once a woman breaks through, leans in or faces her fears—whatever theory you want to prescribe to—and becomes a boss, she often finds herself held to a different set of standards and expectations than male counterparts. Women also face several stereotypes commonly associated with female bosses (think “ice princess” or “queen bee”). The truth of the matter is that men and women face the exact same challenges as bosses—they just may handle them differently. That’s not necessarily a bad thing.

According to a recent study from Catalyst, a nonprofit organization that aims to increase business opportunities for women, female bosses are more effective in helping others move up the ladder. The study followed 742 MBA graduates—both male and female—and found that 73 percent of the female graduates helped mentor women, while only 30 percent of the males were so inclined.

Characteristics of a Great Boss

At the end of the day, the same characteristics in both men and women make for good bosses. Most sources agree that a good boss should, at a minimum, set clear expectations for employees from the get-go and advocate for the resources and training employees need. Beyond that, competent bosses should know how to regulate emotional distances. It’s a difficult balance to maintain; the ideal boss demonstrates that they appreciate staff and the life-work balance without prying or becoming too friendly. Bosses can also earn or lose respect through their ability to hire and fire effectively. Often, employers feel that they will be judged by an inability to “make it work” with a new hire. The opposite is often the case. Managers earn the respect of their staff when they’re willing to let someone go when it’s just not working out.

Professor Strouse advises that “businesses are looking for managers and executives that are versatile. They are able to view a problem or issue through a multi-dimensional lens. Managers and executives have to be able to recognize talent and develop it.”

Notre Dame College (NDC) provides an accessible and affordable college degree. NDC offers a broad range of career-focused, accredited degree options to help you achieve your goals through education including an Associate degree in Business Management online and a Bachelor’s in Business Administration online. Adult students benefit from our online degrees, which merge convenience and flexibility with NDC’s academic tradition of excellence. Make an investment in your future with a degree from NDC.