Looking Through the Glass Ceiling

03/10/2015 12:58 pm ET | Updated May 10, 2015

I've been involved in women's issues for as long as I can remember. I can't tell you how many panel discussions, forums and conferences related to the topic I've participated in. When I entered the workforce, we referred to the barrier between women and high-level executive positions as a "glass ceiling;" we could see the prized jobs, but weren't always able to attain them due to various forms of gender discrimination.

Over the past few decades, women have, to some degree, succeeded in breaking through, evidenced by the leadership roles they play in government. But in the corporate world, progress at the very top of the pyramid is still disappointing. According to a recent Catalyst report, only 19.2% of S&P 500 companies have women on their boards. Hence the "glass ceiling" is still part of the conversation, raising the question of just how much progress has been made.

Encouragingly, however, there is now a deep talent pool of women and a healthy shift in the dialogue. The question is no longer: "Should we have women in leadership roles?" Rather, it's "How do we get them there?" The challenge is no longer overt gender-based discrimination -- it's unconscious bias. Unfortunately, that is in some ways more difficult to address. There are some notable measures of success, and there are still some areas that need work.

What has improved:

  • Women are graduating at higher rates than men: During past 15 years, more women graduated, received advanced degrees and boosted their numbers in managerial ranks.
  • Diversity and inclusion programs: More companies implemented diversity and inclusion programs to eliminate structural biases and foster women's full participation in leadership
  • A higher rate of women starting their own firms: In the last 17 years, from 1997 to 2014, an average of 591 new women-owned businesses started each day. Women-owned firms account for about 30% of all enterprises.
  • The attitudes and expectations of Millennials: According to a Deloitte survey, Millennials will make up 75% of the global workforce by 2025 -- and they may reject what we have to offer. They have a reputation of wanting to text rather than talk, for not staying loyal to one company for long, and for wanting to climb the ladder faster than ever before. How do we engage them?
  • Women in government: Data on the number women in government varies widely, but the percentages are up. In Nordic countries 41.5% of women on average hold government roles, followed by the Americas with 26.3% and Europe (excluding Nordic countries) with 23.8%

What has not changed:

  • Small roles for women in venture capital and funding: Women are more likely to be outside of the investor (VC) network and are less likely to gain funding opportunities for women-led businesses. The numbers show they represent only a small percentage of those on the management track at venture capital firms.

I firmly believe these remaining lagging indicators can be turned around. There's certainly no reason why that can't happen. It's a matter of increasing the momentum we already have. The frameworks are all there.

At Thomson Reuters, we're taking a proactive stance to drive change in our leadership diversity. We have a number of engaging programs in place to advance the role of women in the workplace and build a pipeline of future leaders. My belief is that success now lies in the hands of the individuals. Very simply: Women need to step up into challenging opportunities, and men need to champion change.

International Women's Day is an opportunity to shift our thoughts away from the barriers that women face and instead use it as an opportunity for us to focus on how our own actions, attitudes, and abilities can propel us forward to the next exciting challenge, to a satisfying career, and a chance to make an impact in the world.