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“Breaking the Glass Ceiling” Authors Discuss Progress, Barriers to Women in Leadership Roles

NC State Talley Student Union
NC State Talley Student Union

In recognition of Women’s History Month, the NC State Poole College of Management hosted a conversation on March 21 with Jennifer Martineau (’88) and Portia Mount, authors of “Kick Some Glass: 10 Ways Women Succeed at Work on Their Own Terms.”

Frank Buckless, Jennifer Martineau and Portia Mount
Frank Buckless, Jennifer Martineau and Portia Mount

The discussion, held in the Nelson Hall auditorium as part of the college’s Wells Fargo Executive Leadership Series, was moderated by Frank Buckless, interim dean, professor of accounting and Matthew and Ruth Keen Faculty Fellow at Poole College.

Martineau and Mount began the conversation with an overview of women’s progress in leadership roles and a summary of their own careers, including their roles at the Center for Creative Leadership (CCL) which provided some of the data incorporated into their book. Martineau is senior vice president for research, evaluation, and societal advancement at CCL, and Mount had just transitioned to a new role as vice president and global leader of strategic marketing at Ingersoll Rand. She previously was senior vice president, global marketing & chief of staff at CCL.

Progress and Barriers

They cited the progress of women in leadership since the early 1990’s, when a related book, “Breaking the Glass Ceiling: Can Women Reach the Top of America’s Largest Corporations?” was published, co-authored by CCL.

That book followed an amendment to the Civil Rights Act of 1964, to strengthen and improve Federal civil rights laws, including passage of the Glass Ceiling Act of 1991 which addressed Congressional findings regarding the ongoing under-representation of women and minorities in management and decision-making roles in business, and barriers to the advancement of women and minorities in the workplace. At the same time, U.S. corporations were becoming increasingly aware of the advantages derived from a diverse workforce. Read more.

“There has been a lot of progress in getting women into leadership roles … powerful, capable women, but still the same barriers,” Martineau said.

Jasmine Taylor ('16), center, "the biggest take away for me was that it's okay to advocate for myself. It doesn't mean I am bragging or boasting. I am just expressing what I bring to the table. Can't wait until the next talk."
Jasmine Taylor (’16), center, speaking with Portia Mount (right) after the presentation, said, “the biggest take away for me was that it’s okay to advocate for myself. It doesn’t mean I am bragging or boasting. I am just expressing what I bring to the table. Can’t wait until the next talk.”

Citing a McKenzie report about the leadership pipeline, Mount said, “Men and women have parity, up to a certain level and then it drops off for women and people of color,” she said, adding that books being published about women in business (at the time) focused on “fixing the women. We wanted to write a book for women, men and organizations.”

“Kicking Some Glass” is based on CCL research and includes information from the authors’ interviews with dozens of successful women who talked about their successes and failures. Each chapter includes their stories and addresses one of the barriers to advancement, as well as reflection questions.

“It’s a book for early and mid-career level women; and men, you’ll see a lot there for you, too,” Mount said. “It’s an empowerment toolkit,” and she encouraged readers to keep a journal as they worked through it. “We want it to be something you read if you’re thinking about being a leader,” Martineau said.

Eva Feucht, director of NC State’s Park Scholarships program, said Martineau “has been a longtime Park Scholarships Selection Committee member, helping us to identify exceptional leaders for years. It was wonderful to hear her and Ms. Mount speak about the ways that women can develop as leaders and the ways that their workplaces can encourage that development.”

Key Insights

“Who I am and what my situation at home is” factor in leadership advancement, Martineau said. “Some have the ability – financially and family support – to take the leap when an opportunity presents itself.” But each person needs to come to an understanding of “what leadership looks like for me,” she said.

Mental models of how we exist sometimes move us forward, and sometimes back, Mount said. “A first generation college student may think, ‘I can’t get into that program because no first generation person ever got to do that.’ The mental models inadvertently stop you. To counter this, understand your values and intention to come up with your purpose and your own definition of success.”

“Understand that we need to be our own agents, just like actors and others in the entertainment industry have. It doesn’t feel comfortable when we advocate for ourselves, but we are shining a light on what we can bring to the job, the organization. But it needs to be authentic, to say, ‘This is what I’m about’.”

  • Looking forward, gender equity is not a number – a percentage of women at the CEO level. It means making it possible for everyone to achieve their potential. What the future looks like depends on where you started.
  • “I think the problems we are trying to solve now are hard problems,” Mount said, “and hard problems require smart, tenacious people taking the long view and unleashing potential in everyone. You will be solving the hard problems of today and those that we can’t even think of.”
  • Pay it forward: Get involved in leadership programs for young girls, who tend to stop thinking of themselves as leaders and don’t put themselves into positions that set them up to become leaders in the future. Be part of the solution; help girls learn to believe.
  • Identify and articulate what you want, and continuously revisit that. It’s a journey.
  • Network and mentor each other, starting now. Consider what we can bring to each other. Over time, there will be more senior people in your network who can serve as sponsors.