The glass ceiling is the unseen yet unbreakable barrier that keeps women from rising to the upper rungs of the corporate ladder regardless of their qualifications or achievements. However, I believe the metaphor has now become outdated. Instead we must focus on the cumulative effects of the smaller issues that stop women from reaching the top.
The phrase ‘glass ceiling’ went mainstream in the 1980s when the world of work, especially for women, was very different. It did seem as if a ceiling was keeping them down. Today, working environments have changed and so have the challenges of gender diversity.
There is a theory commonly known as the “broken windows” approach. The concept of broken windows introduces the idea that small acts, which appear harmless, eventually lead to bigger and more impactful acts. A number of women are choosing to opt out of or leave organisations not because they hit a glass ceiling but because they do not see any progress in their career.
One common example is nominating personnel to take on assignments. Many managers make assumptions about women’s availability for long-term roles. For example, managers may assume that a woman prefers to stay with what she was doing instead of taking high-risk projects that requires travelling, just because she had a child recently. Often, female candidates are not even given the choice to accept or reject an assignment. Another case is that some companies have a single, annual promotion round. Some women might miss out on this opportunity if they happen to be on maternity leave during this period.
Structure and culture
While women have made some progress over the years, there are structural issues (policies and work practices) that create barriers for women and cultural issues (beliefs, stereotypes, values) that create biased perceptions about women’s ability to lead effectively, thus holding women back.
Women still believe in the idea of glass ceiling, killing their confidence level as they pay attention to this barrier. Women must get out of this belief. The intersection between work and family is perhaps the biggest challenge for women aiming for the top. Employers have responded with a host of “family-friendly” programmes, including flexible scheduling, job shares etc.
Despite optimistic talk about egalitarian marriages, family responsibilities and interests still distract most women from climbing the executive ladder. It must also be noted that even career-focused women can change their minds when they have a child; for them, the hike towards being a CEO is not as important as nurturing a new life.
Perceptions about the challenges associated with competing work-life balance and the fact that women’s priorities are different from men’s hold many women back. There is a need for change for women in the workplace, but as with most things, change starts from within.
Many women strive for personal and professional success like fulfilling relationships, close-knit families, and rapidly growing career tracks. However, such concept is dangerous as it is one of the reasons that women often waste time tearing down each other instead of building one another up. Instead of focusing on perfection, we need to strive for growth on the things that matter more. What matters most to one may change over time. That is fine. One must spend less time focusing on getting into a specific lane and more time investing in what feels authentic to oneself in terms of one’s goals and growth.
Confidence and humour
Women need to network a lot. The old expression that “your network is your net worth” is cliché, but studies show that individuals with large open networks succeed at a much higher rate than those with smaller, more closed networks. While our busy schedules can make it difficult to find time to attend networking events, there is no doubt that these opportunities are worth marking. Having a diverse and well-connected extended network not only helps grow one’s brand, but also the business, its reach, and potential opportunities down the line.
Women should rely on two senses when it comes to gender equality in the workplace: a sense of confidence and a sense of humour. Confidence is imperative for knowing that you can resist people’s stereotypes of what you are capable of doing, and actively solicit people who help you question the status quo. Humour is vital for not letting those incidents come up where someone underestimates you to get down and make you bitter. Assume best intentions, take things in stride, and create a network of people who help you stay positive.
Women can and do innovate, lead and succeed. Also, if you build your own business, you do not have to worry about the corporate glass ceiling. You control your own destiny!
The article was published in The Kathmandu Post.