With the first-ever nomination of a woman for president, we are hearing a lot these days about the glass ceiling.


The term “glass ceiling” stems from the 1970s. Back then, author and editor Gay Bryant was working on Working Woman magazine. As she told the “New York Daily News” recently, the magazine was targeting “women who were entering the executive suite, women with careers, not just a job.” Bryant worked with a lot of women who were first entering the workforce and who were finding it challenging on many fronts.


While Bryant did not talk about the glass ceiling at that time, she famously uttered the phrase in an interview in the mid-80s while running Family Circle magazine. Bryant had long been trying to create what she called “a roadmap to success” for these women because she found that too often her female colleagues found that their upward rise in the business world would stall for reasons of gender. It was during this time that in an interview Gay Bryant said this phenomenon was a “glass ceiling.”


The phrase stuck.


The good news is that, while not gone, the glass ceiling certainly seems to have a lot of cracks in it these days. Indeed, according to the recent Bank of America “Women Business Owner Spotlight” survey, while a majority of the women surveyed (77%) said that a glass ceiling does in fact exist, more than half (54%) said that the much-discussed ceiling does not affect them personally.


And while that is heartening, it must be noted, however, that 46% of the women surveyed said that they have indeed encountered the glass ceiling at some point in their careers.


There were several other findings in the survey that are worth noting:


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For starters, women are more optimistic than men right now when it comes to the future of their businesses. In the short-term, 52% of women surveyed expect that their businesses would grow over the next 12 months while only 48% of men felt that way. Results were even more pronounced over the long-term. 60% of women small business owners expected to grow their business over the next five years as compared to only 52% of men.


This all then begs the question: How do women entrepreneurs expect to grow their businesses? Of course, it is the same for any small business owner, no matter their age or sex or favorite color or whatever: they need access to clients and capital.


Again we see good news coming from the Bank of America research. Almost seven in ten of the women surveyed said that they thought they had the same access to capital as their male counterparts. Twenty-eight percent thought they had less access, and three percent thought it was about the same.


That same optimism was seen across the board when it comes to other traditional ways one might grow a business, for example:


  • 79% of women though they had the same access to clients as men
  • 69% thought they had the same access to business opportunities as men and
  • 75% thought they had the same access to outside resources as men


Given all of this, it is not surprising that when choosing words to describe their entrepreneurial journey, the adjectives leaned heavily positive:


  • 35% said they are “content.”
  • 49% said they are “empowered”, and
  • 54% said they are “successful.”


So yes, it looks like the “glass ceiling” is hopefully heading towards being a phrase of a bygone era.


About Steve Strauss

Steven D. Strauss is one of the world's leading experts on small business and is a lawyer, writer, and speaker. The senior small business columnist for USA Today, his Ask an Expert column is one of the most highly-syndicated business columns in the country. He is the best-selling author of 17 books, including his latest,The Small Business Bible, now out in a completely updated third edition. You can listen to his weekly podcast, Small Business Success, visit his new website TheSelfEmployed, and follow him on Twitter. © Steven D. Strauss.

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