Glass ceiling or concrete roof?

Oct 02 2006 by Florence Magne Print This Article

Four women out of three hundred! Hardly more than one per cent. That is the number of female CEOs in the top 100 American, European and Asian companies (in terms of market capitalisation).

Is it normal that Executives still ask, when presented with a female candidate: "is she married?", "does she have any children?", "how many?". If diversity has become politically correct among the big bosses, we are a long way short of the target if we look at the results.

Is it the environment or the women? A bit of both: many women remain reticent about sacrificing their family life for work and career. But our social model, even if it is evolving, remains conservative, with diehard stereotypes regarding roles, behaviour and positions that are suited to women.

In addition, the organisation of major companies is traditionally based on male patterns that are often characterise female Directors as being less "available".

Fortunately, things are evolving. The necessity to integrate varied skills at the highest levels is a well-known factor of a company's creativity, or even competitiveness.

Women provide organisations with a complementary point of view, greater flexibility, more emotional intelligence and their capability to work in a team. They are often perceived as being agents of change.

Women are often perceived as being agents of change

New tools are in place to pierce the famous ceiling: consideration of women's obligations, an adapted career plan, recruitment with the assistance of a coach, awareness forums, sponsorship programmes, application of rigourous measuring processes and regular follow-up, plus the multiplication of in-company networks (for example at IBM, Accenture, General Electric).

If few women hold positions of power today – about 10 per cent worldwide - they are more numerous at the levels immediately below the board. In addition, they are integrated more readily onto the Boards of Directors.

Above all, society is changing. Today, a new generation of men are reaching positions of power having studied alongside women and with the habit of working, discussing and making decisions with them. More and more, these men accept to share roles more equally at home as well as at work helping the flow between the two worlds even more.

Young fathers also hope to spend more time with their children. We recently heard of a Human Resources Director measuring the morale within his company by the number of upcoming births.

But let's not forget that in our business of recruiting executives, we are above all searching for skills, irrespective of gender. Very rare are the searches for executives in which our clients ask us for a woman or for a man. And fortunately so!

The phrase of Françoise Giroud still rings true; in answer to the question "how far should we go to reach equality", she replied "up to the point that incompetent women can occupy the executive positions in the same way as men."


About The Author

Florence Magne
Florence Magne

Paris-based Florence Magne is a Partner with executive search firm Christian & Timbers, a performance-driven executive search firm serving Fortune 1000, NASDAQ, and pioneering venture backed companies.

Older Comments

That's not accurate to say 'women have more emotional intelligence'. Look around. Alot of women are unfortunatly ruled by their emotions the same as men if not perhaps more so.


I don't think the advantage is in being ruled or not being ruled by thier emotions rather than being able to acknowledge and address emotional issues that impact our staffs effectiveness. Women appear less likely to dismiss the impact of emotional issues on the work force.