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The glass ceiling: I can still see my reflection

| Thursday, March 18, 2021

Kerry Schneeman | The Observer

Fearless Girl is a bronze sculpture created by Kristen Visbal. It was installed in Lower Manhattan on March 7, 2017, in anticipation of International Women’s Day the following day. The following year, it was moved in front of the New York Stock Exchange.

On March 8, 2021, State Street Global Advisors, the finance company behind the “marketing stunt-turned beloved public artwork” installed shards of glass around the Fearless Girl in a misguided tribute to women who, by occupying more top leadership positions, have broken the metaphorical “glass ceiling.”

This gesture is quite ironic; the glass ceiling is far from broken, much less cracked. When glass breaks, it shatters loudly snatching your attention away from the mundane immediately. Shards fly everywhere and reverberate. Glass doesn’t just seep away or drain slowly. If that glass ceiling was shattered, the world would definitely not only know about it but would also feel it.

Popularized in a 1986 Wall Street Journal article on corporate hierarchy, “glass ceiling” is a colloquial term referring to an invisible or unwritten barrier that prevents women and minorities from ascending the corporate ladder at the same rate or speed traditionally observed among male counterparts. Whether apparent through subtle implicit bias or through flagrant restrictions or corporate policies, these difficulties restrict women from moving to higher roles in a male-dominated hierarchy.

It is worthy here to question why the corporate world has been witnessing this phenomenon. Are we women less qualified?

To that I answer: HELL NO.

I have been surrounded by powerful, ambitious and passionate women. They are the professors who I learn from both in and outside the classroom. They are the classmates who amaze me with thought provoking questions and challenging debates. They are the club leaders I meet with. They are the dorm mates I live with. They are the success stories I paste on my vision board.

Globally, approximately 50% of working age women are part of the labor force. Women are also outstripping men in third-level education, per the International Labor Organization. And yet, as Sheryl Sandberg points out in “Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead,” “a  2011 McKinsey report noted that men are promoted based on potential, while women are promoted based on past accomplishments.”

According to the International Labor Organization’s recent report “Beyond the glass ceiling: Why businesses need women at the top,” while male managers are over-represented in research and development, profit and loss and operations — where high level decision making is prominent — female managers tend to be concentrated in business support functions such as human resources, where they have limited decision-making power or strategic input, and therefore limited opportunities to rise in the company. Moreover, women are often labeled too emotional or inept to lead teams. They are labeled a liability if they juggle career and family responsibilities.

In 2019, S&P Global published a report entitled “When Women Lead, Firms Win.” The study analyzed how earnings and share price data — from 2002 to 2019 — changed following 5,825 new executive appointments, 578 of which were women.

In the two years following a new CEO appointment, the stock price for companies that appointed female chief executives outperformed those that appointed men by an average of 20%; the women-led firms generated excess profits worth $1.8 trillion.

The report states, word for word, that “Firms with female CEOs and CFOs have produced superior stock price performance, compared to the market average. In the 24 months post-appointment, female CEOs saw a 20% increase in stock price momentum and female CFOs saw a 6% increase in profitability and 8% larger stock returns.”

“As we look at financial performance, this research is yet another confirmation that women provide significant and positive value through C-suite and board leadership positions,” Doug Peterson, president and CEO of S&P Global, said in a press release.

According to CNBC, S&P’s study “adds credibility” to the findings of Credit Suisse analysts who also concluded, after a thorough study of 3,000 firms worldwide, that “companies with more female management had higher levels of profitability and performed better on the stock market.”

The reason why the issue of the glass ceiling matters so much to me is because it lies at the center of one of my biggest fears: having to one day choose between professional growth and family.

You see, I have personally sacrificed a lot to be here at Notre Dame and to kickstart a career in the United States. As a young woman who grew up in Lebanon, surrounded by financial instability, I had to leave everything behind. I had to pierce all the barriers of my comfort zone as I sought a better education experience and better professional and academic opportunities. I have put so much effort, energy and hard work into getting a scholarship at a prestigious U.S. university that would give me what others like me could never even dream of.

I am determined to take advantage of my college experience, but I am terrified that five, 10 or 15 years from now I will have to let go of all that I have built because that damned glass ceiling will present me with an ultimatum. Also, what if the ultimatum is not only a question of career versus family, but rather a dilemma of whether I am worthy enough of leading? What if it makes me question all that I am and all that I have achieved and distorts them so much that I lose my sense of purpose? What if all I see in that glass ceiling one day is a distorted reflection of all that I cannot become, rather than all that I have become?


Krista Akiki is a sophomore at Notre Dame majoring in business analytics. Coming from Beirut, Lebanon, she always enjoys trying out new things and is an avid travel-lover. She hopes to take her readers on her journey as she navigates college life and stands up for the issues she believes. She can be reached at [email protected] or @kristalourdesakiki on Twitter.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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