Denise M. Morrison, weaned on assurances from her father that the future would someday be led by women, yearned for the executive suite years before she occupied it. When she finally reached the top, at Campbell Soup Company in August 2011, she had few female peers in the upper ranks of the largest companies in the United States. Reflecting on her career in an interview with The New York Times last month, Ms. Morrison said she had “wanted to break the glass ceiling,” regardless of the obstacles. “It wasn’t only about me,” she added. “It was about the next generation of women coming behind me.”
For as long as women have been in the labor force, this kind of behind-the-scenes support system has served as a vital source of shared information and a safe space for communal commiseration. Advice on salary negotiations, office politics and the work-life balance would be disseminated through informal conversations at cubicles, in cafeterias and over drinks at happy hour. But the network also allowed employees to clue each other into a spectrum of behavior that was often unseen or ignored by their employers — the boss who scoffs at maternity leave, the manager known for ribald jokes, the colleague rumored to be a groper, or worse.