The 10 Most Common Barriers Between You and the C-Suite

The C-suite is a dream of many career-oriented executives, working to further their goals to the top echelons of their company. While the C-suite is an attainable goal with hard work, determination, and the drive to succeed, for women the climb may involve more significant barriers than their male counterparts. According to Bizjournal, only 25% of C-suite positions are filled by women, and although the number is slightly up from the previous years it is still a significantly smaller percentage when compared to the number of women in the workforce. Additionally, only 6% of top CEO positions boast a female in the role. 

The reason is not that women don’t want to reach these positions and advance their careers to the top. The problem is that women find it harder to navigate around the numerous barriers that they struggle with than that of their male counterparts. Below is a list of some of the most common barriers women will face when they strive to reach the upper positions in a company.


Role models help provide motivation for those who are seeking to excel in their field of expertise. Even more than that they provide those who admire their success with a roadmap on how to achieve the same goals. Unfortunately, due to the smaller portion of women achieving the C-suite position, there are fewer role models for women to follow. While this can push some women to break the mold of the traditional C-suite demographic makeup, it can be disheartening to others, making the positions seem even more unattainable.


Networking is a critical component to achieve C-suite level positions in a company. It is through networking that you can build relationships with others in your industry to show off your skills in your desired field. Many companies hire outside candidates to help fulfill their executive roles aside from internal promotion. Oftentimes they will seek out recommendations from external and internal contacts who know people in the industry that can fulfill the duties of the role. Even though many companies will hire their C-suite workers outside of the company, networking can help if they decide to promote internally. Internal network opportunities such as company parties and retreats are a good place for management and executive leaders to identify the strong talent in the company who may be better utilized in the upper-level positions. 

So how can this be detrimental to women even if they are good at networking? According to studies performed at the University of California, men in leadership positions in the United States are more likely to network with other men. This leaves women struggling to get noticed by the male leadership who likely have the decision-making power for their future career goals.


Even if a company lauds themselves as family-friendly, this typically extends to workers below the C-suite level. Women tend to be the caregivers for most family-related needs, whether it is raising children or caring for elderly parents. Many women find that they lose out on opportunities for promotions or even the assignment of major projects once they get married and start having children. The reasoning many companies give for withholding promotion is that they feel family commitments are likely to interfere with job responsibilities at some point, making them the less than ideal candidate for the job. Even with the fact that more and more men are taking on the responsibilities of childcare, women are still seen as the primary caregiver, even if they do not take any more time off than others to meet their family’s needs. Even more concerning is that women who are not married and do not have children are also judged by the same assumption, due to the fact that society often expects them to eventually settle into family life when they get older. In a corporate world, there is a great disparity when it comes to family. A family is considered an asset to a male executive, but a hindrance to a female. 


More than half of all women-owned businesses fall into one of these three categories, meaning women are frequently in competition. Lack of mentorship for females aspiring to C-suite level positions has been a consistent problem for the past decade. Women are less likely to become mentors as they feel that it takes time away from their family responsibilities. This leaves many women seeking out male mentors to help guide them on the right path to achieve their desired career goals. Unfortunately, the recent advancements in the #MeToo and other movements have made men cautious of mentoring women in a one-on-one setting. This one-on-one mentorship is an essential component found in many individuals who have achieved the career goal of obtaining a position in the C-suite and the hindrance on women to obtain one can contribute to the stagnation of their goals. 


P&L jobs are positions that focus on generating profits for the company. In short, they make you responsible for the success of the company. P&L exposure is considered to be a vital steppingstone to achieving the ranks of the C-suite, as they provide a candidate with the direct experience they need in how to drive a company towards greater success. Many women find that they are not given the information to pursue a P&L job in their company and even more say that they are not offered as much ability to attend training courses in these jobs as the men in the company. According to gender economist Katica Roy, only 14% of women are encouraged to pursue P&L jobs versus 46% of men. Since the P&L roles have traditionally belonged to men, women feel that they are often discouraged from applying to these positions, and without this foundation, they are often dismissed when it comes to C-suite level promotions. 


Even though it is thought to be an antiquated topic, the “Old-Boy’s Club” still exists in many industries and companies. The “club” tends to be comprised of male career-minded individuals who have received similar educations and climbed through the corporate ranks together. Unfortunately, many of the people comprising these clubs are involved in the major decision-making roles in a company and will often shut women out of filling these positions, opting instead to fill them with their own colleagues and social circle. In corporations where the “Old-Boy’s Club” is thought to exist, men climb faster and higher through the ranks, even if they are similarly skilled and educated as the women in the company. 


Informal social gatherings are often used to lay the foundational groundwork for advancement in a company. It is at these gatherings that employees build a rapport with both their coworkers and those in upper-management positions, who can help them with promotions and further advancement. The old saying goes that deals are made on the golf course and not in the boardroom and this can be true in many industries. Not only do these social gatherings include other employees and managers in the company, but they also can involve potential clients. Unfortunately, many women find themselves excluded from these activities, often blatantly if the company holds men-only gatherings or events.


There are many patriarchal ideas that are associated with traditional leadership which can make corporations feel that women are less suited for these roles. The first barrier is that women are often disempowered or considered to be subordinate in society. This misconception can lead those in the decision-making position to feel that women would not be able to make cut-throat decisions, that may be in the best interest of the country. Ambition and aggression in men are considered to be a valued trait, even if it is at the expense of others. When women try to assert similar authority, they are often perceived as controlling, argumentative, and disagreeable, which are leadership qualities considered to be negative for a woman. In some companies, there also may be issues with male management and executives who do not like being told what to do by a woman and may take anything they say as a personal attack. To avoid this type of confrontation, many companies may limit the number of women they place into positions of leadership. 


Decisions at the C-suite level come with a certain degree of risk. While women are equally as comfortable at taking risks, they are much more likely to focus on calculated risks, where they can be assured that even though the payoff might not be as great, the consequences will be significantly more mitigated. In many cases, taking more conservative risks can be the best approach but when someone takes a huge risk that pays off big, they are more likely to be noticed by those in the decision-making position. 


Diversity is a hot topic when it comes to corporate hiring, but oftentimes this diversification will focus more on race and ethnicity than it will on gender. This means that businesses no longer focus on women as a minority, even though many industries remain male-dominated, especially at the C-suite level. By failing to focus on the need to promote women to the higher echelons of the company, many businesses are not pushing women in their company to apply for these promotions, and many will give up believing that they do not wish to change the status quo and instead are more comfortable continuing to promote men over women. The lack of the need to diversify by gender also sometimes pushes women out of the training programs that they need to move on to the next level in their career. 

While there are many hurdles for women to jump to obtain corporate C-suite positions, it is important for women to continue to push for these promotions, so that they can help break down gender barriers and become role models for other women to look to when pursuing their corporate dreams. Research has shown that companies that promote women to higher positions tend to be 18% to 69% more profitable, which makes investing in the promotion of women vital for companies to stay competitive and continue to grow. 

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2 comments on “The 10 Most Common Barriers Between You and the C-Suite”

One of the barriers that exist but is ignored is the double bind dilemma for women. This goes beyond communication differences and is indeed a bias against women and how they are perceived when they take charge v. how a man is perceived when behaving similarly.

Thank you Cindy. You make a good point. Stay tuned for an upcoming article on this topic.

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