Women and the Glass Ceiling

Last Updated by Eva Green, Adrianna Unzueta on

Women have come a long way in business and politics, still many say the glass ceiling is cracked, but not broken. Women make up half of America’s workforce but despite their success, men continue to dominate leadership posts.

Allstate in North Suburban Northbrook is recognized as one of Chicago’s largest and most diverse companies where women make up more than half the workforce.  Robin Bronstein still sees opportunity at Allstate as she has worked her way up the corporate ladder from Procurement Specialist to Senior Manager.  “I continue to attend seminars, workshops.  I actually had the opportunity to help work on our strategy to build our employment resource group,” said Bronstein.

Despite Allstate’s efforts to promote women, only a quarter of its top leaders are women.  If that seems unusual, it’s not. Women currently hold less than a quarter of the executive offices in top businesses across the nation and even fewer positions in Chicago’s top 50 firms, according to Korn Ferry Itnl. and Chicago Network.

Women and Glass Ceiling Pic for web.png Women are less likely to be promoted as manager, hired to senior management positions and gain access to people and opportunities that accelerate careers, according to global management firm McKinsey and Company.

Women and men often start out on the same career path.  However, women begin dealing with more obstacles than men midcareer mostly because they do not have the same high level executives sponsoring them, according to Tierney Remick, Executive Recruiter at Korn Ferry Itnl.

“Sponsorship is more around the advocacy, and it’s advocating in those rooms where decisions are being made to put an executive into a role that they may not be absolutely be prepared for, but one would take accountability and help get them there,” said Remick.

For half a century, millions of women have been fighting for equality.  Since the beginning of the movement, women have been propelled into the workforce and onto college campuses.  Although they now receive two-thirds of all Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees and half of all PhD’s, women still find it difficult to compete in a workforce that was designed and created by men. 

That’s is where personal development programs like Women’s Unlimited come in and is designed to help women think more like men, partnering with more than 200 large companies to groom high-potential women for leadership roles.  Learning how to find mentors, negotiate for themselves and network are among the skills they are taught.

“You’re part of a system.  You’re part of an organization that you need to be effective in, and you need to understand how you’re being seen, how others are experiencing you in a way that supports where you want to go or can be creating some barriers for you,” said Rosina Racioppi of Women’s Unlimited.



An even bigger challenge than arming women with the right tools to shatter the glass ceiling is changing the workplace culture, according to management experts.  The science and technology fields are still dominated by men.  Only a quarter of the 3,300 employees at Argonne National Laboratory in South Suburban Lemont are women, and none are in top leadership positions.

In an effort to address their diversity challenge, Argonne launched a leadership institute two years ago.  One of their biggest challenges is holding onto women once they get in the door, partly due to work-life balance issues, according to Lisa Durham from Argonne Leadership Institute. She thinks policies in the lab are helping.

“We’ve expanded our parental leave.  We have an on sight daycare.  We have flexible work hours telecommuting, and I think all these things help support families and help to retain that midlevel career,” said Durham.

Last spring, The Rockefeller Foundation also launched their “#100x25 campaign” that funds research promoting the advancement of women.  They hope to see 100 women leading Fortune 500 companies by 2025. 

One recent study shows that companies should promote more women and that companies can increase profits by 15 percent if one-third of its leaders are women. 

Back at Allstate, Robin Bronstein continues to mentor other women colleagues.  She encourages them to take risks and not underestimate their abilities, a practice she finds interferes with their upward mobility.

“They will opt out when they just read a job description,” she says. “They over analyze, and then they won’t even get in the game and they won’t even apply,” she says.  Bronstein encourages young women to think about their potential, not under estimate their abilities, and to always set their sights high.