Is There Really a Glass Ceiling?

Is there really a glass ceiling?

I don’t buy it. 

But I could be wrong. 

I know there are more men in leadership positions than women.  I know there are industries where men have the advantage.  And I’ve worked with (and for) chauvinists.  But I just don’t believe there is a conspiracy to keep women from advancing.
 
A glass ceiling implies women are being kept down rather than failing to rise.  I think, barring some regrettable instances of genuine discrimination that undoubtedly occur, it’s much more subtle than that.

  • Women communicate differently. We schmooze, we dissect, and we show our emotions.  How many men do you know who do that?  OK, now how many men do you know who do that who also run a company?
  • Women try to avoid problems. Unfortunately for women who think anticipating problems is a valued business skill, most men hate being nagged about what might happen and prefer to deal with problems as they arise. 
  • Women don’t say what they want. We expect men to just know.  Men never just know, you have to tell them, and for best results look them in the eye and say it like a man.
  • Women think it’s about the work. It’s not.  Some work needs to get done but business is really about power and relationships.  It’s not about that fabulous report you stayed up all night writing so don’t expect to get promoted over it.
  • Women take things personally. I can’t prove women got short changed on the shrug-it-off-and-move-on chromosome but I will say that it’s hard to move forward when you’re always looking back.
  • Women scare men. Thanks to sexual harassment laws, your boss probably doesn’t even want to have lunch with you. It isn’t personal, just wimpy.
  • Women have children. This isn’t a criticism, I have three.  Well, almost.  But unless you pass on maternity leave and have someone else raise your kids, they take you away – both mentally and physically – from the corporate action.

Here’s the twist:  in many ways, feminine work styles are actually better for the business and if it were up to me working moms would rule the world.  But that’s not the point.  The point is that when it comes to career advancement in a male-dominated business climate, there are implicit rules of engagement:
 
If you’re good at what you do, are confident and don’t dress like a floozy, make sure to be ‘seen’, put your personal life on hold, ruthlessly take jobs that look good on your resume even if you hate them, suck up to your boss, politely but firmly refuse to bring him coffee, be available for ridiculous and unnecessary meetings at 3AM and make it perfectly clear you expect to be rewarded or you’ll leave – you too can succeed in a man’s world even if you don’t play a team sport. 
 
Don’t agree?  That’s OK.  But take a good, hard look at the successful men and women you know.  

For the most part you’ll find they pick their battles, have a wide social network, know exactly what they want, can articulate it without getting misty eyed and either have no children or a professional nanny.  Most importantly, they don’t judge the rules.  They follow them or they don’t and they leave and try something new. They take careers setbacks seriously but never personally. 

And they pass through that glass ceiling like it’s not even there.

About the Author

Laura Schroeder

Laura Schroeder is a talent and compensation specialist at Workday, a leading supplier of global Human Capital Management solutions. She holds a certificate in Strategic Human Resources Practices from Cornell University, writes a Talent Management blog under the name Working Girl and is a contributing author at CompensationCafe.com. You can follow Laura on twitter @WorkGal.

14 Comments

Michele Elsaesser

Great post! I think the numbers (or lack there of) of women in leadership don’t tell the whole story. Power happens on many levels in and out of the corporate arena.Many times women self-limit because they are hard wired to consider others, no one is holding them back. Women understand the rules but choose not to enter the game. Bonita’s point is excellent-strong women know what they want-it’s all about choice. Many of us are leaders that make a choice to go down a different path. Those of us who chose a different path are creating new rules of the game. A well crafted, intentional career path is success and a model for the next generation.

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Bonita Martin

Love this post! Strong women know what they want and that may conflict with what the business wants or needs – relo, bad boss, 3 am meeting, 50% travel, etc… The most successful corporate leaders that I know have sacrificed a lot to be in their position. I have made the choice that I just not willing to make those kinds of sacrifices at this point in my life. For me, it’s a choice, not a ceiling.

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Laura Schroeder

Thank you all for reading and taking the time to comment.

Tamkara – It strikes me close to home too…

Robin, Kari, Dave – Thank you!

Shaun – I hope it’s useful!

Thabo – Point take, it’s definitely a female perspective 😉

Debbie – Exactly, you have to grab what’s offered and run with it. It really is about saying, Yes.

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Debbie Brown

Well said- I wrote an earlier post regarding a woman I heard speak- the CFO of Home Depot – she also sits on several Boards (UPS being one of them->>)- one of her messages in her speech to the audience- was you have to be prepared to say yes to whatever assignment that may come your way. She told several stories of days at her firm where she received the call and she said “yes” to “whatever was needed”….- the reality is- to break through the glass- she clearly did whatever was required-and we should not lose sight of that when it comes to our expectations as women in leadership.

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Thabo Hermanus

I love that you tool a touchy topic and took a candid style in delivery. I can’t say that I agree with each bullet (license allowed to generalize though on your point of view of men or women). Your closing paragraph says it all though. It is just a game at the end of the day and you have to use your strengths to adapt to the game and be effective. I am always amused by people that get stuck on judging the rules and blaming those rules for their lack of promotion. That goes for men and women, Black or White. Loved the post though, it is definitely putting it out there.

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Tamkara A.

Great post! But Ouch!!! some of it struck too close to home.
Very very Relevant truths we could all use in our work places and life in general.

Indeed, most of our limitations are self imposed.

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