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The Glass Ceiling is Cracking

Posted on January 28, 2021
Image of a broken window - or glass ceiling with many cracks feathering outward.

With the inauguration of Kamela Harris as the first woman Vice President last week and the confirmation of Janet Yellen as first woman to serve as the Treasury Secretary, that proverbial glass ceiling has more than cracked. It hasn’t shattered – yet – but as women, we are making great strides to take it down. With each woman taking aim at that glass ceiling, they pave the way for more women to follow.

At the end of 2020, according to Catalyst only 6% of CEOs for S & P 500 companies were women. In 2021, however, that number jumps to 8.2%. A couple of new women to join the CEO club are:

  • Jane Fraser will become the first woman to lead a major bank. As of next month, she will become the CEO of Citigroup, Inc.
  • Karen S. Lynch will become the CEO of CVS Health on February 1, 2021

Woman are also on the move in smaller but growing companies. One such woman is Whitney Wolf Herd who, at age 31, will become the youngest woman to serve as a CEO of a company going public. Herd will lead the company she founded, Bumble – the popular female-based dating app, through the IPO within the next few months and is estimated to be approximately an $8 billion valuation. To add to her achievements, not only is she the youngest CEO, she has also built a board composed of 73% women.

No doubt it takes strength and perseverance to propel oneself up the ranks in the the C-Suite and to hold the title of CEO. Her Agenda, a group dedicated to supporting women through connection, inspiration, and resources, interviewed 51 “powerful” women and developed a list of 20 pieces of advice. I encourage you to review the entire list, but here are my top five:

  • Work Hard – Amanda Edwards – U.S. Senate Candidate. “There is no substitute for hard work and preparation. You have to prepare. You have to work hard. You’re going to face adversity. You have to be resilient. It’s not going to be an easy journey. Make sure you’re ready for it. Have a clear goal in mind, don’t just get out there. Then, create a plan and execute it.”
  • Develop Your Skills – Deena Shakir – Partner at Lux Capital. “I realized there is a bit of a misconception among many people that direct experience doing exactly the same role is what leads you into your next role. [But really] it is more about the skills, the network you develop, and the curiosity that you have. Most of the things that you will end up doing in your role you really can’t necessarily train for prior to. You can learn it on the job if you have exposure.”
  • Be Part of a Community – Dorothy B. Gilliam – First Black Woman Reporter at the Washington Post. “My message is the importance of being part of a community, being a part of the Black community to the extent that it is possible. From there, one can get so much support, hope, and strength that helps to arm you to return to the battle in your office or in your organization…I think that there is a richness and depth in our culture. Really take advantage of it. You can be in white spaces, but you can also bring with it who you are. If you don’t have your own posse, you better get one.”
  • Own Your Voice – Monika Pierce, Head of Inclusion and Diversity at WW. “I think that women need to be aware of owning their voice. It is recognizing that you have the experience, knowledge, confidence, and right to sit at the table you are at. If you are not at the table that you want to be at, you have a right to change courses and navigate getting there. As women, we sometimes become a wallflower as we are unsure if we should voice our opinions or ask for better. Women should find their voice and use it confidently because we have a lot to say and there is a lot to be said.”
  • Practice Wellness – Aala Marra, Holistic Health Practitioner and Founder of aalaCare. “The biggest and best thing that I can say about wellness is that you deserve it. Period. Everyone deserves it. If you’re a human, you need wellness and you’re worthy of it. The best advice I could ever give is to open yourself up and give yourself permission to bring wellness into your life, because you deserve it.”

These women are paving the way for others, chipping away at the glass ceiling one promotion, appointment, and election at a time. They are doing it for themselves and for all those women, young and old behind them. They are doing it for you. Think of their sacrifices, hard work, and achievements as an opportunity. Learn from them and then feed off of their energy, enthusiasm, and experience to forge your path, making sure it wide enough for others to follow.


Anne Converse Willkomm
Assistant Dean, Graduate College
Assistant Clinical Professor & Department Head, Goodwin College
Drexel University
Posted in leadership-management-skills