Over the past decade, the number of master’s and doctoral degrees earned females has risen dramatically. In fact, women earned the majority of all degrees in 2008–2009. Yet their success in higher education classrooms has not necessarily translated into advancement in the workplace.
While the glass ceiling has cracked, there is much work to be done for women to truly break through and assume a proportionate number of executive leadership positions. Education is absolutely necessary for professional success; however, education alone is not enough. Organizational and attitudinal changes must also occur so women can rise as leaders of tomorrow.
The lack of women at the top perpetuates the current status. Women are less likely to have sponsors to speak on their behalf and are less likely to speak on behalf of themselves. While organizations can set up—and even require—formal mentoring, talent development, and succession planning programs, women also need to seek out mentors, apply for next-level jobs, own their accomplishments, and position themselves for manager positions.
Despite the increasing involvement of men in their homes and families, women are still more likely to juggle multiple roles, shifting their priorities between family and career. As a parent myself and a caretaker for my mother for many years, I know firsthand how difficult it is to balance these family commitments and maintain a career. Women take leaves of absence or follow a slower career track for longer periods of time more often than men. These career interruptions—whether they are choices or obligations—may impede the professional advancement of women. Mine was the generation that was told we can do anything—and we can—but not all at the same time or by ourselves.
Organizations can help facilitate work/life balance by providing options such as flex hours and shared jobs and by supporting employees who take time off to deal with life issues.
As more companies recognize this growing pool of talent, the advancement of women will become more imperative. This generation is demanding a different approach to their work and family lives. When more women can answer with a resounding yes to “Have you reached your career goals and are you happy with your life?” that, in my mind, is progress and the true definition of success.