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Let’s Talk About How To Break The Glass Ceiling, Not Marissa Mayer’s Maternity Leave

Women comprise 47 percent of the US work force, account for 57 percent of US undergraduates, and spend more than70 percent of consumer dollars worldwide. So, with all this brainy talent and buying power, why aren’t more of us sitting in the board room? Within the S&P 100, women make up only about 18 percent of director positions and just 8 percent of CEOs. Why does the C-suite remain mostly all-male?

Image courtesy of Forbes


Of course, a few strong, powerful women have made impressive ladder-climbs recently, and over the past 12 months the media has cast a bright light on their stories. But, rather than explore the work effort or the change these leaders are driving, it seems the focus is all too often on their personal lives. Why the fascination with Marissa Mayer’s maternity leave, Sheryl Sandberg’s dinner plans, etc.? Do we care what time Tony Hsieh leaves the office or how Mark Zuckerberg will schedule mealtimes if he and his new wife have a child? No.


And yet, the public remains particularly preoccupied with the day-to-day details of female executives, probing their choices about marriage, children and work-life balance. “How will women C-suiters juggle it all?” Meanwhile, I can’t help but wonder why we don’t ask the men in the boardroom that same question.

Putting all that aside, one thing is clear: Breaking the glass ceiling is possible. I know because –even though my hair isn’t making headlines in The New York TimesI’ve been in the C-suite long enough to see positive change for women in executive positions. Here are a few of my firsthand observations:

Marketing is an effective stepping stone. For years now, professional women have been drawn to marketing, particularly in B2B where the gender gap –at least for managerial and VP positions –has shrunk considerably. These days, marketing is the business, and marketers possess a strategic perspective that is enormously valuable to the organization as a whole. Today’s marketing leaders are focused on expanding the customer base and driving revenue growth, and that makes them solid choices for key leadership positions. (Audi of America, Mercedes-Benz and others have recently named CMOs to CEO positions.) Women marketers who want to sit at the boardroom table need to expand their outlook even more and increase their exposure to financial operations, IT, international markets and other areas outside of the traditional marketing arena.

Women need to think like the CEO.Technology empowers us with data-driven insights and the numbers we need to prove our accomplishments and cultivate accountability. Old stereotypes have women shying away from the number-crunching, science of marketing; but that’s not the case anymore. More and more women recognize that they simply cannot let data (now the equivalent of revenue) pass them by.

Women need to be women. The fashion for women in business used to be to cut your hair short, wear silly silk bow ties and try to be “tough” like a guy. But over the years, we’ve learned that women don’t usually reach their full potential by acting like men. Instead, we need to be true to ourselves and our unique perspectives. When we are, our companies benefit. In fact, according to the Credit Suisse Research Institute, companies with at least one woman on the board would have outperformed in terms of share price performance those with no women on the board over the course of the economically volatile past six years.

You can create your own version of “having it all.” Women today have choices. In households where both partners work and travel, couples can build flexibility into their schedules so someone can be at home for the children. (As Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg advises, we need to “make our partner a real partner.”) By contrast, many women now opt to delay marriage,forego marriage or not have children –choices which may have raised eyebrows years ago, but don’t anymore. The key is to let go of whatever doesn’t hold value for you, while you work to create your own version of personal success. Naturally, the end result will be different for everyone, because everyone’s needs are unique. My husband works at home, so we’ve been able to strike a balance that works for us.

Have a mentor . . . and then be a mentor. Virtually every female executive I know talks about how important it was to have a mentor at the right time in her career. It’s essential for women to connect with other women who have “been there, done that” –and it’s equally essential for women to then give back by serving as mentors themselves. We all need effective role models to show us the way, and as soon as we’re able, we need to help other women navigate, as well.

Breaking the glass ceiling is only the beginning. Yes, the glass ceiling is breakable. But once you get into the C-Suite, you have to know what to do next. Ultimately, the success of your company will depend on your strategic vision and how you drive revenue growth –not the length of your maternity leave or how you cut your hair.