As women who are in our late 40s and early 50s, we both broke new ground in our professional careers and were the recipients of the efforts of those women who came before us. Whatever our level of achievement in the workplace, however, it's clear that the "glass ceiling" - a term coined by a Wall Street Journal article in 1985 that describes women's barriers to advancement - is still prevalent.
That's not to say, of course, that women haven't made strides. Although we still haven't achieved pay equity, we are increasingly visible in top management positions and in the political arena. But, although our educational achievements are unprecedented - and often surpass those of our colleagues - senior management positions and the exclusive club of CEOs often remains out of reach. Although we may not be able to breathe in that rarified air during the course of our own career, we have the responsibility to take whatever steps we can to pave the way for our daughters and granddaughters to take their rightful place in the world of professionals.
How do we do this? A good place to start is to review the recommendations of the Federal Glass Ceiling Commission, which issued two reports in 1995. Although it's been over a decade since the Commission outlined its recommendations, they can still serve as a springboard for each of us to do what we can to ensure that women move through the ranks and are well positioned to assume influential positions. Here are five ways to help:
1. Influence corporate culture. Wherever you can, infuse your workplace with an affirming, inclusive atmosphere. If your company has an informal "boys network," do your best to open it up to women. If some gatherings and events disproportionately appeal to men, suggest alternatives that would draw women in as well.
2. Hire outside of the box. If your company makes its hiring decisions based on traditional forms of experience and references, try different tactics in your department. A woman who doesn't fit into the traditional mold may still bring a wealth of applicable life experiences to the job and may have the knowledge and wisdom to shine.
3. Open up the process. All too often, women are left out of the meetings and processes that serve to help groom up-and-coming executives. Do what you can to ensure that women have access to these meetings, and that they are visible to the higher-ups.
4. Keep it family friendly. Companies with family friendly policies attract qualified women and have better retention rates than companies that do not. Use the influence you have to create a corporate culture that respects the work-family balance.
5. Pay it forward. You've accumulated a wealth of knowledge over the course of your life and your career. Share what you know with another women. Whether you come across someone in your company that shows promise or find someone in your community, you can guide her in polishing her skills and developing the persona that will enable her to thrive in the corporate world.