Mills College Shatters the “Glass Ceiling”: Women’s College Challenges Workforce Gender Barriers

Oakland, California (EastBayDaily) —     The event, entitled "Breaking Barriers," celebrated Mills' accomplishments of breaking barriers and preparing women for leadership for more than 150 years. With assistance from Mills President Janet L. Holmgren and lead donor Lorry I. Lokey, current Mills MBA student Jackie Antig climbed a ladder and broke a six-foot by 12-foot glass ceiling made from Hollywood-style breakaway glass.

While the nature of the "glass ceiling" has evolved since the phrase was used in a 1986 Wall Street Journal article, it still exists, Holmgren said. In fact, women still comprise less than three percent of CEOs in Fortune 500 companies, as reported in Fortune's annual list.

"We are shining new light on this still relevant and meaningful metaphor," Holmgren said. "What Senator Hillary Clinton has done rhetorically in her presidential campaign, with frequent references to shattering the 'highest and hardest glass ceiling,' we did literally both to celebrate the many successes of women and to draw attention to the continual need to bring equity and parity to the workplace."

Keynote speaker and Boston Globe columnist Ellen Goodman offered her perspective on "The Glass Ceiling: Fact or Fiction?"

The event also served as a groundbreaking for a new home to the women-focused MBA program. The program's rapid growth in the past few years spurred plans for a new, environmentally friendly, 28,500-square-foot building that will be completed by the fall of 2009. The building, designed by world-renowned architect Peter Bohlin, of Bohlin Cywinski Jackson, who also designed several award-winning Apple stores around the country, is anticipated to receive Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) gold certification.

The Mills MBA Program was specifically designed to train women to enter the highest levels of management while simultaneously welcoming them into an extensive network of female professionals. The combination of tangible skills and invaluable personal connections empowers Mills graduates with the ability to break the glass ceiling in any field, and in any organization.

Holmgren and Nancy Thornborrow, Dean of the Lokey Graduate School of Business, are strong advocates of gender-focused education, and led the creation of the MBA program in 2001. In fact, it was Thornborrow who successfully led the charge to keep Mills a women's college during a 1990 student-led strike.

"Our mission today is as relevant as it was in 1852 and in 1990: to prepare women for leadership roles," Thornborrow said.

Thornborrow believes that to shatter the metaphorical glass ceiling, women must enter the workforce empowered with the fundamentals of how to manage people and numbers. Those skills begin with the right tools and an educational curriculum that meets women's needs. The Mills curriculum has a strong underpinning of economics, which Thornborrow believes is essential for ultimate business success.

The new Business School was named for Lorry I. Lokey, the founder of Business Wire and a Mills College Trustee. Lokey sold Business Wire to Berkshire Hathaway in 2006, and credits his business success to the many talented women he employed throughout the growth and evolution of his company. He has long been a champion of women in the workplace and is a noted philanthropist in the educational arena. His daughter graduated from Mills in 1985. Lokey has contributed more than $30 million to Mills, including $20 million for the Graduate School of Business.

"This gift is an investment in the future because education and women's advancement are the future," Lokey said. "Mills gives women the opportunities they dream of and empowers them to work on eliminating discrimination against women."

Mills College, founded in 1852, is an independent liberal arts college serving 900 undergraduate women and 500 graduate women and men. The College is ranked as one of the top colleges in the West by U.S. News & World Report and one of the Best 366 Colleges by the Princeton Review. Visit Mills College at


Quynh Tran