That Glass Ceiling

The glass ceiling does exist, with both conscious and unconscious bias, both external and internalized, working to construct it.

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There are plenty of reasons why we have a glass ceiling today. One of them—internalized by men—is the strong “old boys club,” or better said, the “ultimate boys club.” These are groups of men who are at their own private tables making decisions; women are not factored into those decisions.

I remember a story I was told at the Grace Hopper 2016 conference by a woman who was a bank executive. One day she was in a meeting with a bunch of men, and that meeting did not culminate in a decision. After the meeting, the men went into the bathroom, discussed the matter further, and walked out with a decision made. Because they made the decision in the men’s bathroom, she was left out of the decision-making process. Next time, she was in another meeting with them which resulted in a similar outcome—no decision. This time when the men went into the bathroom, she used a novel strategy. She followed them into the bathroom and announced that she was there to discuss the matter further.

At first blush, this sounds like a funny story, but how unfortunate that women have to constantly think of creative ways to get around this problem of the old boys’ network.

When women hit a glass ceiling, experiencing that stereotyping can have an enormous impact on women’s confidence. It erodes their sense of competence, fuels their doubts about their leadership abilities, and makes them anxious. Self-doubt is the essence of imposter syndrome, which can be an enormous barrier to taking the necessary bold steps to have a successful career.

I believe that feelings of self-doubt can affect women’s careers. One of the areas in which self-doubt can come into play is in not negotiating well enough for ourselves. Negotiating well for oneself requires rejecting the imposter syndrome. To negotiate well, you must believe that you deserve the compensation, title, or benefits you are asking for.

Opportunities rarely come knocking at our doors. But when they do, don’t let that little voice in your head talk you out of it. Distilling facts from the false narrative we tell ourselves because of our lack of confidence will help us make better decisions. Then, once you make a decision, make peace with it so you can avoid regrets later.

There are many breakthrough stories I have enjoyed learning about. Some involve changing companies or working for a new team within the same company. Others include challenging conversations with people in one’s management chain. Still others have required executive coaching, including honest reality checks of the unproductive aspects of one’s leadership. Some career breakthroughs can require intercession, and it was heartening to hear from these women how many of the thoughtful course corrections came from a man who had the inclination to lend a hand. Similarly, getting a strong sponsor can take one’s career to the next level, and again, most sponsors for these women were men. While it has been encouraging for me to hear the breakthrough stories, I must conclude that there are still many glass ceilings to be shattered by high-performing female leaders.

The women shattering the glass ceilings are not as visible as their male counterparts. I want to use women’s voices as role models, revealing that they have broken their own glass ceilings, even when their successes are not widely recognized. Until the movie Hidden Figures came out, most people did not know there were three brilliant women at NASA—Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan, and Mary Jackson—who were “human computers,” calculating complex equations that allowed space heroes like Neil Armstrong to travel safely to space. Let’s speak their names proudly and loudly for all women who have persisted and done incredible work in male-dominated industries. 

This extract, adapted from Nevertheless, She Persisted: True Stories Of Women Leaders In Tech by Pratima Rao Gluckman, is ©2018 and reproduced with permission from the author.

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