Women who were close enough to see higher-level positions on the corporate ladder yet couldn't reach them faced a barrier referred to as a "glass ceiling," according to a 1986 article in The Wall Street Journal. The glass ceiling often prevents women from achieving success in management roles and bars women in management roles from reaching director- or executive-level positions. Women cracking the glass ceiling is a far more successful endeavor with their employers' support.


Succession plans ensure business continuity and leadership through identifying in-house talent, or employees within the organization's current workforce, who are interested in assuming higher-level and more responsible roles with the company. Employers can help women break through the glass ceiling by looking closely at the women they currently employ who demonstrate both interest and aptitude in moving up in the organization. Identifying talent is the first step in providing opportunities to employees, regardless of gender.


Developing a formal mentor-protégé program that pairs management employees with non-management female employees can provide one-on-one coaching and professional development activities that women need to aspire to higher-level roles in the organization. In addition to coaching and development, women who are identified as protégés will benefit from the support and guidance that mentors provide as they assume positions with more responsibility and greater impact on the organization. This approach for helping women crack the glass ceiling has two-fold benefits: Women benefit from personal attention to their professional developmental needs and employers benefit from the positive effects that leadership and management support has on employee retention.


SMART goal-setting is a method conceptualized by management guru Peter Drucker in his management-by-objectives framework. SMART refers to goals that are specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and timely, although achievable and time-specific often are substituted for the A and the T. An effective time for supervisors and managers to assist employees with goal-setting is at performance appraisal sessions. Employers willing to help women break through the glass ceiling should encourage managers who evaluate them to assist in setting professional goals. However, goal-setting alone isn't panacea for upward mobility; measuring progress and recognizing completion of those goals are essential follow-up activities.


Training and professional development are crucial elements of any succession plan. Women who have benefited from mentor-protégé relationships also need formal leadership training and professional development. Employer-sponsored training programs, tuition-reimbursement and paid time off to pursue work-related networking events, such as professional conferences and association meetings, also are helpful to women interested in climbing the corporate ladder to higher-level positions. The key to ensuring employees actually can take advantage of training and professional development opportunities is to create line items in the organization's budget for employee training. Because human resources isn't a revenue-producing department, budgets for HR activities and training often are the first to be cut. Employers should view training as a workforce investment, not a discretionary expenditure.


Employers who develop programs for women seeking career advancement generally tout their organizations as the best places for women to excel. Although providing training and promotion opportunities for women is an admirable goal, employers mustn't specifically exclude other employees from taking advantage of these opportunities. To prevent claims of disparate treatment, employers should make participation in leadership training, tuition-assistance programs, mentoring relationships and the like available to all employees. It's perfectly acceptable to work toward improving promotion opportunities for women; however, employers also must provide equal opportunity to the entire workforce.