Crash Course: Eight ways to dismantle the glass ceiling

You've got loads of women in the organisation. So why aren't they reaching the top, and what can you do?

by Alexander Garrett
Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

Get the basics in place. Your starting point should be an equal opportunities policy, making it clear that discrimination will not be operated or allowed. Everyone needs to be made aware of the policy and understand that those who don't abide by it will be disciplined, says Ozlem Kulle, an employment and HR lawyer at Fox Williams.

Cater for lifestyle needs. Flexible working and childcare support - eg, through a workplace creche - aren't beneficial just to women; but without them many will struggle to fly as high as they could. 'It's not just about giving women (and men) the opportunity to work flexibly,' says Kulle, 'it's ensuring that they're not seen as less committed and generally second-class citizens.'

Monitor the situation. PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) carries out detailed 'pipeline analysis' of potential women leaders throughout the organisation. 'We now have more understanding of the dynamics of our work population,' says Sarah Churchman, director of diversity and engagement. 'We can assess where the hotspots or blockages are, and formulate action plans.'

Analyse career paths. Institute of Employment Studies (IES) research found job segregation to be a significant factor in career advancement, with a perception that many organisations draw senior appointments from male-dominated disciplines. 'Companies should review procedures and ensure they're finding the best talent wherever it is - eg, by looking at softer areas such as HR,' says IES principal research fellow Andrea Broughton. 'Getting the right all-round experience is key for women. Many would like international know-how.'

Coach for self-confidence. 'Self-confidence is a big issue for many women, because they often feel they haven't had a linear career and they're more likely to have moved sideways,' notes Broughton. 'Coaching can boost self-confidence.' Mentoring can also help open doors for women with potential.

Foster a less macho culture. Try replacing the office outings to Spearmint Rhino and awaydays on TA exercises with cultural activities. Hey presto, you may find more talented women attracted to your portals.

Consider special measures. PwC has designed a women's leadership programme to provide a positive intervention and address the imbalance at the top. But...

Use quotas at your peril. 'Positive discrimination in appointments or filling quotas at certain levels helps to provide the role models needed,' says Broughton. 'But it undermines credibility - people will say you're only there because it was a female shortlist.'

Do say: 'What really makes the best person for this job?'

Don't say: 'You must be the new secretary.'

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