The Disappearing Glass Ceiling

marilynjacobsonContributed by Marilyn Jacobson, PhD, author of Turning the Pyramid Upside Down: A New Leadership Model

Organizations will get flatter and ultimately the pyramid that has been with us for many generations will be gone. This is inevitable in this highly competitive, global, fast paced marketplace. A highly engaged workforce will be essential to deal with an already formidable and daily increasing number of complexities.

The glass ceiling will be an anomaly. Winning will depend on having available an array of skills and aptitudes, many of which play to women’s strengths. Think of what we have learned from Daniel Pink about left and right brain thinking, and the link between break – through technology and design Steve Jobs taught us. A competitive organization must have people with vastly different skills and attributes that they are eager to exercise. The workplace demands innovation, speed in decision making and timely execution. If this is to happen, newness must preempt numbers, collaboration must take precedence over status. Power, formerly at the top, must be replaced with teamwork. Communication and a culture that promotes idea exchange is likely to generate trust, and regard for each person’s unique contributions.

In my book, I make the case for inverting the pyramid and what it takes to develop a culture that values diversity. Flatter organizations are more interested in creativity, design and implementation than in promotions and bonuses. Genuine collaboration and coordination takes the spotlight away from title and emphasizes instead the realization of mutual goals. Layers of management are costly to maintain and are self defeating.

Flatter organizations foster skill development, encourage and support continuous personal growth. Leaders emerge when they see it is needed and when an individual has the particular information, contacts or skills indicated. Gender is not the deciding factor. Everyone benefits when they are asked rather than told and when it is natural to challenge each other.

Where do you start? Communication, Culture and Global Focus.


Terry Lundgren, CEO of Macy’s has said “The only way to address uncertainty is to communicate and communicate. And when you think you’ve just about got to everybody then communicate some more.” Executives say they want thought leaders but they withhold information regarding organization strategy, knowledge of options being considered for gaining competitive advantage or pending mergers or acquisitions. As a result, the day to day work absorbs employees and limits broader thinking ability.


Gary Hammel, a business author, says “When you dismantle the pyramid, you drain much of the poison out of an organization.” An organization’s values are reflected in how they are structured. If engaged employees are sought then a top down structure will not work. The flatter the organization, the more information is shared; thus creativity is more likely to occur. Hierarchies get in the way when innovation is the goal. Wellness and reduced stress provide the impetus to strive, persevere and be resilient in the quest for newness.

Global Focus

Thinking like a global citizen adds knowledge to the strategy table. Organizations are branching out to worldwide sites. Being informed is step one. Step two is gaining the requisite skills such as language, and sensitivity to different cultures that will transfer into global arenas.

Marilyn Jacobson has had a wide-ranging career in two complementary sectors: Academia and Management Consulting. As a PhD. from Northwestern University, she has taught in the MBA programs at the University of Illinois at Chicago and Loyola University. Over two decades, she consulted with hospitals, retail, manufacturing, and service, financial, legal and academic organizations as well as government agencies in the U.S. and the Republic of Indonesia. Clients include Linens ‘N Things, GE Capital Rail, AT&T Solutions, MacNeal Hospital, Encyclopedia Britannica and the New York State Commission on Education, to name but a few. She was able to learn what works and is beneficial to achieve organizational goals.