What happens when women don’t just break the “glass ceiling,” but shatter it into a million pieces…

In March 1986, the Wall Street Journal proliferated the term “glass ceiling” to denote the metaphorical barrier halting women from ascending the corporate ladder. Many books followed, including Ann M. Morrison’s pivotal 1987 Breaking the Glass Ceiling: Can Women Reach the Top of America’s Top Corporations?, analyzing and interpreting the various ways in which women encountered discrimination in business. More than a decade ago, the federal government even created the Glass Ceiling Commission to recommend how best society could dismantle the obstruction. Now, in 2009, while women still encounter discrimination in the office, recent studies have revealed that the glass ceiling has not only been detrimental to women’s profitability, but most likely to the business world as well.

In an article on Miller-McCune.com in February, 2009, Roy Douglas Adler, who teaches at Pepperdine University, explained in detail his studies on the correlation between businesses that highly promote women and profitability. Adler defended his stance with years and multitudes of research, saying in “Profit, They Name Is Woman?” that when comparing Fortune 500 companies with top female executives to the average company on the list, the success of the female-inclined corporations was overwhelmingly positive.

“For 2001,” Adler stated, “the 25 best firms for women outperformed the industry medians, with overall profits 34 percent higher when calculated for revenue, 18 percent higher in terms of assets and 69 percent higher in regard to equity. Furthermore, the 10 firms with the very best records of promoting women showed greater profit results than the firms that were merely very good.”

As the research compiled year after year, all of the overpowering evidence favored the conclusion that a strong and positive relationship existed between giving women top positions and achieving corporate success. Even when the criteria for analysis were changed, the evidence remained the same.

Reflecting on this remarkable achievement of women in the business-world, it naturally seemed appropriate to reflect on exactly why the correlation occurred. Speculations included a direct relationship between women executives and unusually good success, as well as a reverse relationship, in which the businesses that are already doing well hold less caution when promoting women because of their booming prosperity.

And while Adler warned, however, that “As with any study showing a correlation, it is dangerous to assume a causal relationship,” one cannot ignore the signs that women are not only breaking the formidable glass ceiling, but shattering it with a vengeance.  To read more on the study, read Roy Adler’s keynote address given at the European Project on Equal Pay in Denmark.


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The Women's Law Project creates a more just and equitable society by advancing the rights and status of all women throughout their lives. To this end, we engage in high-impact litigation, advocacy, and education.
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