3 Uncommon Practices to Crack the Glass Ceiling

Despite the variety and success of corporate programs aimed at advancing women (Deloitte, General Electric, Procter and Gamble, American Express) the number of women in top leadership roles remains relatively unchanged. While we see more women at lower and mid-levels of corporate pyramids, the cliff, where numbers fall to single digits and often to zero, remains firmly in place.

To Crack the Glass Ceiling, Go from Best Practices to Uncommon Practices

Cracking the glass ceiling requires culture change. Culture change requires thinking differently.

“You cannot solve a problem with the same thinking that created it.” Albert Einstein

The culture that led to the glass ceiling won’t produce the change in thinking required to crack the glass ceiling. Best practices emerge from current thinking. They’re simply the best of how we think today. To go beyond the cliff we need to think differently. Thinking differently leads to new and uncommon practices. Cracking the glass ceiling calls for such uncommon practices.

3 Uncommon Practices That Crack the Glass Ceiling

Practice #1

Aim for three women on high level leadership teams where important decisions are made

Crack the Glass Ceiling

Crack the Glass Ceiling


Why three? The lone woman – or any lone minority – rarely changes the prevailing culture. Almost all lone women share the experience of speaking up during group discussions and being ignored, overridden, or dismissed. Within minutes a man makes the same point and the idea flies with him as the pilot. This dynamic repeats itself until the lone woman becomes less active and less invested. It’s death by a thousand paper cuts. As her will to speak up diminishes, so goes the opportunity for culture change.

Practice #2

First women – 5 steps to success

We simply have to lean into the current reality that first women must excel to be seen as competent, so select and groom an A+ player. She must also be a trail blazer, courageous, self-confident and resilient. This next one cannot be emphasized enough. She has to read the human/political landscape and respond with flexibility, while keeping the end goal in mind. (Read twice)

Follow these five rules to provide the solid support she needs inside and outside the company.

  1. Include sponsors and internal/external mentors, as part of her success team. Add a coach.
  2. Hold her manager and team-mates accountable for her success to ensure they provide vital support and feedback. She’ll fail without it.
  3. Set clear expectations that first woman, her manager and team-mates will explore and utilize differences in thinking, perspectives, values, and leadership styles to create value for the organization.
  4. Provide access to experts in change management, human dynamics, and gender diversity
  5. Establish a formal group of all the first women as a mechanism for support between and among these trail blazers. Invite other members of her support team to meet with this group to speed culture change by way of common goals and shared experiences

Practice # 3

Rapid Road to Readiness for High Potential Women

Use fast track approaches to prepare women for top leadership roles. A study by Steve Wolff, DBA*, the Hay Group, found that assigning high potential candidates to assist executives created a faster road to success for senior leadership roles. Intel uses a similar model. By working alongside the right senior executive, a high potential woman becomes familiar with important issues and the rules of play. She participates in group discussions, briefs the executive, prepares documents, presentations, and serves on important decision making teams. She also develops the relationships with people who will be critical to her success.

These 3 practices create change at the individual, team and organizational levels simultaneously. First women, sponsors, managers and team members increase their capacity to work with and gain from diversity. They remove impediments to culture change and are highly visible role models. The effect cascades through the organization and the critical path to success for second women is faster and smoother. In addition, the first women are ready-made sponsors and mentors for the women who are next in line.

*Steve Wolff, DBA. The Coming Leadership Gap. Presentation to New England Society for Applied Psychology. Waltham, MA. March 7, 2010

Please share your uncommon practices. Together we can do this!!


A previous version of this post appeared on Germane Insights

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Dr. Anne Perschel
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