Is There Really a Glass Ceiling?

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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 You can follow Laura on twitter @WorkGal.

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