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The Glass Ceiling vs. the Gray Ceiling

At a women’s leadership conference last week, Sherry Lansing, former chair of Paramount Pictures’ Motion Picture Group, shared a story meant to encourage the women in attendance to keep on keepin’ on.

At a women’s leadership conference last week, Sherry Lansing, former chair of Paramount Pictures’ Motion Picture Group, shared a story meant to encourage the women in attendance to keep on keepin’ on.

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Thirty years ago, she said, while she was president of 20th Century-Fox, the fledgling organization Women in Film gave her her first major award. In those days, a WIF meeting was lucky to get thirty attendees. Now, Lansing laughs, given the numbers of women working in the motion picture industry, “we can’t find a stadium that can handle all of us!” Since those lonely early days, Lansing became so successful that there’s now an award named after her.

She suggested that, when it comes to societal pressures said to hold women back from business success, “The glass is really more than half full…I think there will be a women president [of the US] in my lifetime.” Of more immediate concern, according to Lansing, is the fact that as the Boomers age, the American ecomomy is about to have “the youngest, hippest and smartest group of people ever to turn 60” age right out of the workforce.

There’s no need to lose this talent, she said, exhorting the crowd to join her in evangelizing that “60 is the new 45.” Lansing is charming, enthusiastic, playful and famously hard to resist, and is putting her time and resources in service to her passion by launching her latest venture, Primetime—a movement that offers retired seniors the opportunity to give back by volunteering.

Three cheers to Lansing for stepping up to lead the attack on the Gray Ceiling. But is the Glass Ceiling actually gone?

Maybe in entertainment. But judging by the flurry of today’s coverage of Indra Nooyi, 50, being named the new CEO of PepsiCo Inc. – “making PepsiCo the largest [or second or third largest, depending on the article] US company to be run by a woman,” where she will be “one of an elite group of 11 female CEOs running Fortune 500 companies,” as befits her stature as “one of America’s most powerful women”…well, the article on Bloomberg.com today captured it best:

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“Pepsi is a great meritocracy,” said Gerard Roche, senior chairman of executive recruiter Heidrick & Struggles International Inc. “They say, `Let’s get somebody good and if she happens to be a gal, that’s all the better.'”

So close, and yet so far.