How to Break Through the Glass Ceiling Without Getting Cut

As we all know, the glass ceiling is the invisible and sometimes impenetrable barrier that prevents women of talent from rising as high as men of equal talent.  While we undeniably have made progress as a society, men still have disproportionate power at the top in most organizations.

When I have described glass ceiling issues, I have had some men dismiss the issues because they have never have experienced them. I have never experienced labor pains, but I would be a fool to dismiss their existence simply because I never have experienced them.

A lot has been written on how organizations can shatter the glass ceiling. It goes beyond the legal imperative. It is a question of ensuring top talent in the top seats.

Not as much has been written on what women with flat heads who are tired of banging into the ceiling can do. In this blog, I propose ten suggestions:

  1. As title of the blog suggests, you want to break through rather than shatter the glass ceiling.  If enough women break through, the ceiling will shatter on its own.  But if you, as an individual, try to shatter it on your own, you are more likely to fail.
  2. Do not ask for permission for a seat at the table. It’s too much like a child asking to sit at the grown-up table at Thanksgiving.  Demonstrate why you should be there.  If you’re still not invited, consider showing up uninvited. Yes, you may be called pushy (or worse yet, the Scarlet “B”) but  the risk of marginalization is even greater.
  3. Play the talent card.  You should be recognized for your talent, not your gender.  If you focus too much on your gender, you undermine your talent.  Don’t be afraid to let others know your accomplishments. Confidence can be displayed with humility. They are not mutually exclusive. Note to file: call Donald Trump. 
  4. Pick your battles. If you don’t choose your battles wisely, you will spend your life fighting battles rather than advancing your career.  When men go to strip clubs while away on business, that’s a battle worth fighting.  When a guy says “guys,” perhaps let that one go.
  5. Don’t get stuck in affinity groups. Affinity groups for women can be great, particularly where there are entrenched boys’ clubs.  Jim Beam is often the de facto head. But affinity groups are a means to an end and not an end in of themselves.  Focus on gender-related obstacles in the context of overcoming them and overcome them outside of the affinity group.  While a safe place, the affinity group should be a launching pad and not a landing pad.
  6. Frame women’s issues as human issues and raise them in the context of business issues.  For example, while women and men alike have work-life balance issues, women are still more likely than men to have primary caregiver responsibilities.  How does limiting the potential of caregivers limit your organization’s profit potential? Don’t get me started. The answer goes beyond a blog.
  7. Create alliances with men.  Seek male mentors and mentor men -- as well as women mentors and mentees.  Whatever you do, don’t segregate yourself. Men as a gender are not the enemy.  Troglodytes of both genders are. Find men who get it and support and seek their support.
  8. Don’t assume all women are allies.  Some women are harder on women than they are on men. Don’t try to change them.  Align with women who favor equal opportunity and who support both women and men who face challenges.  In this context, also stay away from women who only help women or who bash men as a competitive support.  These women create business and legal risks.
  9. Don’t ignore the micro-inequities which, when taken together, create macro exclusions.  We all know that lunches, golf outings, etc. are opportunities to bond and share information, etc.  Ask men to lunch.  Plan outings that include men and women.  Create your own micro-equities.  If you are not invited to the party, throw a better one. 
  10. Be yourself.  Don’t try to out-man Cro-Magnon man.  Knuckle drugging is not becoming of men. It is no more becoming of women, either.  So speak with your own voice and don’t go through life quietly. I know I don’t!    




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