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How women can shatter the Glass Ceiling

As we celebrate "Women's History Month", we need to remember that 2020 has been a tough year plagued by uncertainty, crisis and an unrelenting virus that drove us all to stay home and shelter. The living rooms turned to classrooms and offices for both parents in most cases. The lines between work and family lives are more blurred than ever, work seems to be 24/7. Many suffered losses no matter how small and worrying about their income, work, and health.

Women have been pulling double shifts, wearing two hats at all times, either as a mother, wife, teacher to the kids, employee or business owner. Women have been laid off at a higher rate than men. COVID highlighted the obstacles standing in the way of women advancement and equality even more.

But, out of every mess there is a message and out of every breakdown there is a breakthrough, some workplaces are reassessing their Diversity and Inclusion practices including women issues.

So, I am not going to start with numbers and statistics to show how women are lacking in numbers in the C-Suite, as executives, and as Board members etc. this is known fact that has been discussed over and over.

The gender gap in leadership represents a significant missed opportunity for business. It is not about Affirmative action, and it is not a politically correct thing

Glass Ceiling” has been discussed many times as being an anomaly in our society, an invisible obstacle most of the time without any resolution or even hope for solutions. The term “Glass Ceiling” dubbed by the Wall Street Journal depicting limitations faced by women and minorities to advance into senior positions in corporate organizations (we are only discussing factors affecting women in this post)

I personally look at the issue in a totally different way, there might be a “Glass Ceiling” for women, as it does exist for minorities, this “Glass Ceiling” didn’t stop a lot of women to achieve success. I, personally do not believe in “Glass Ceiling”. I feel it is a self-imposed obstacle that we put in our own way to have an excuse why we do not or cannot reach our full potential. I build my own building and have my own roof with no ceiling.

I am not discounting the barriers that exist in the way of women’s careers, I am not denying that they have not been discriminating against; what I am saying is the “personification” of the Glass Ceiling is giving it a bigger size obstacle that it can ever be

There is no shortage of educated women, women are at more than 57% of the students on college campuses (2009) and comprise around 60% of master’s degree recipients as well as doctoral degrees awarded to more women than man, The workforce is estimated to be a fifty- fifty now, obviously not reflected in the number of women in the C-suite, executives, and Board members

Women, a highly skilled source of leadership talent, are being overlooked to the detriment of business. In the era of global competition for talent, the best Talent Male or Female) should be sought to give a competitive advantage over those that only rely on only men to fill top positions. Many organizations have fallen short of their goals.

.So let us look at the origin of the so called “Glass Ceiling” for women

It is time that we tackle this issue and stop making excuses of not being in Executive positions because of the “Glass Ceiling”; the fact that there are women in senior leadership positions, some in industries that are stereotypically male dominated indicates that the barriers can be broken.

I have been blessed to be surrounded by exceptional women that each one of them has broken not only the Glass Ceiling but the sound barrier and achieved greatness on their own. As a group of women we believe that we can achieve any goal we set our mind to, by working hard, commitment, dedication, finding resources, sacrifices, and helping each other. We do not need to become “one of the boys” to be a good leader, we are not “Good female leaders” we are simply “Good leaders”

It is important to understand that solutions for women issues are not only depending on women alone doing something about it. Women issues are societal issues

Here are some barriers that generally face women leadership (probably not an inclusive list and might not apply in every case)

  • Bias: Unconscious Bias& 2nd generation Unconscious Bias embedded subtly in the guidelines, principles and operational processes of the organizations against women, we have seen this even in the political elections where commentators turned to value the female candidates on how they looked, their age, their hair, their clothes, to even the shade of their lipsticks, where they never commented on the color of the tie or what clothing style a man candidate wears.

  • Organizational Structure: Women are excluded from consideration in most activities that will lead to advancement as succession leadership planning, internship or mentorship programs, training and development programs as well as apprenticeship programs.

  • Gender Stereotypes: Where women are mostly dismissed as a leader because she has a family. She is seen as a liability if she cares for children or older parents. They perceive that women with families are unable to concentrate, spend longer hours or even be able to travel so they discount her even before considering her for the position, versus considering a male candidate under the same circumstances without even betting an eye.

  • Legal: Discrimination cases are hard to prove, and needs a lot of financial backup, there is inconsistent enforcement of Equal Opportunity Employment laws, and poor collection and distribution of reports and statistics that showcase the problems. Most of the time the victim is guilty till proven innocent.

  • Outdated succession planning or lack of them; and career development systems

  • Lack of mentorships and sponsorships of females into leadership positions. There is a difference between a sponsor and a mentor. Women needs both:

  1. Mentors: That can guide, offer advice and support, not expecting anything or very little in return

  2. Sponsors: Are more invested in their protégés, they believe in them, offer guidance and a lot of feedback, they become the voice of their protégés. They expect a lot in return as their protégés are an extension of their brands, and reputation

  • “All Boys” culture organizations’ cultures: Women are seen as outsiders that do not fit in the picture as we have always done it that way and it works (even if it is broken)

  • Lack of men support (in general): Some men are totally oblivious to the gender disparity in the workplace, or have fear to lose status, or being ridiculed or considered soft and mushy, some do not get involved as it doesn’t touch them.

  • Women not having a seat on the table: The general perception of women especially minority women do not stand up for themselves, do not ask for what they want and need, they do not want to stir the calm water so they avoid conflicts and start believing in Glass Ceiling that no matter what they do nothing will change. Rosa Parks alone changed the face of history in the 1960’s. The journey of a hundred miles start with one step

As women we do not fight back as we should
  • We try not to attract attention, we try to take the smallest space around us, we keep our voices down, we get interrupted and do not push back, we always use “I Just” which diminishes any words after it and strips us from any power. We are afraid to negotiate our salaries, we are afraid to contradict opinions in meetings so we won’t be seen as trouble makers.

  • We do not complain when we are not considered for a promotion that we know we deserve because our boss never gave us the choice, assuming we will turn it down because it involves a lot of travel

  • We do not speak up when we are not considered for “Mentoring programs” while our male colleagues are put on the fast track, we do not ask to be considered for the big projects that will put our names on the map.

  • We do not demand a seat on the table, we do not voice our requests and needs, and most importantly we shy away from branding ourselves properly and do not know how to claim and own with pride our achievements or being unapologetic about who we are.

Sometimes as Women we create our own chains that hold us down, create boxes that we imprison ourselves in, preventing us from using our strengths and talent or preventing us from seeing the possibilities.
  • Women fear of success: Yes fear of success. Some women are conditioned to believe that the road to success involves risks such as disrupting the harmony at home with the family, or getting hopes up that can lead to disappointment.

  • Women self-limiting beliefs: Fears, excuses like I do not have tine-resources- or connections, self-doubts like they will never be able to achieve anything ever, that they are losers, not self-worthy, that they do not deserve success, or that they will be judged or ridiculed. They are not comfortable to fight for what they want, competition is bad and will create enemies, basically not capable to step up of their comfort zones

As we can see obstacles and barriers are generated or exist on both sides:

  • Society, and organizations

  • Women

  • Men as allies

To advance and solve the issue both factors: Change in organizational cultures and women, women advocates and supporters need to do their parts together it is not the responsibility of only one side but both sides have to be accountable to get results:

  1. Organizations’ Cultures

  • Change the culture of organizations: Change management is never an easy task, it involves resistance and a lot of efforts. That is why top executive leadership need to champion these efforts, as culture change trickles from the top down.

  • Offer flexibility at the workplace for parents; and elderly care-takers especially women- fortunately now with the change of laws, the four generations at the workplace more organizations are offering a flex schedule

  • Offer leadership training, and career development programs that are not bias towards male leaders

  • Have proper succession plans, including the proper assessments for female leaders, career development and training

  • Offer proper coaching, mentoring and sponsoring for promising female leaders

  • Revise work practices to help women advance to senior positions instead of hindering them like using ERG groups, giving women in the organization a seat on the table to pioneer these efforts

  • Monitor the selection process of people for high visibility projects that can enhance a career

  • Offer incentive education re-imbursement for masters and doctorates programs for women

  • Have zero tolerance for stereotyping and discrimination against women – strong HR policies and departments are a great asset.

  • Have proper progressive performance evaluations and constructive feedback. Tie managers and supervisors performance evaluations’ and promotability to the efforts spent in coaching, training and advancing women

2. Women role to advance themselves:

  • Reinvent themselves both internally by overcoming fears and other limiting beliefs like imposter syndrome, fear of failure or success, fear of ridicule; and externally through self-branding to project their brands, skills, confidence and assertiveness. There are so many free resources today due to the different associations, technology and the internet

  • Start getting serious about their destiny knowing that they are the only ones that can make it happen so take the bull by the horns.

  • Empower each other by forming and joining ERG and affinity groups to have a voice and fight the barriers or bias they might experience.

  • Engage with the organizations in effective initiatives to change the organizations cultural barriers.

  • Get rid of the “Glass Ceiling” excuse or as a fate defining issue, or fall under the self-fulfilling prophecy to justify why they are not advancing. Acting as a victim is debilitating, we become what we believe

  • Strategize a plan for their career: Study what is needed to advance, get the required qualifications as education or certification or mentoring, and simply go for it, do not wait for anyone to take your hand

  • Stand for themselves and speak-up; prevent others from assuming or trying to perceive their styles, competencies and abilities

  • Ask for feedback from managers or superiors, colleagues that they trust; take their comments into consideration as we are what we do – our actions, verbal and nonverbal communications and behaviors affect how we are perceived. Never get defensive

  • Ask for help, seek coaching in areas identified as vulnerable

  • Knowing that it will not be easy, or comfortable, they will need to adapt to many changes along the way, get out of their comfort ones but who said life was easy? Look at career as being an adventure along the life journey

  • Verbalize and ask for what they want, if you do not ask you do not get

  • Most importantly believe in themselves, only when you believe it you see it

3. Engage men support as allies:

  • Increase their awareness through education on the existence of Gender Bias and Unconscious Bias

  • Fight Apathy by showing how gender bias is affecting them and what they get to gain from helping equality

  • Explain how they can be champions of change

  • Appeal to their sense of fairness

There are differences in women and men leadership styles and this is the beauty of Diversity. Women do not need to be seen as aggressive, commanding, cut throat kind of leader with a capital “B” to be seen as a good leader actually it does take away from her efficiency, Being feminine with communication and nurturing skills have been proven to be a great leadership style. Men do not need to wear dresses on the other side to be effective

I personally have gone through all the stages of self-doubt, fears, feeling kike I am not worthy, or who am I to fight better people before me were defeated, how can I stand a chance being an immigrant women minority with an accent?

I asked for help, sought mentors and sponsors, I kept working and pushing the limits, going from one level to the other, nothing feels better than the euphoria feeling that you are making your own destiny reinventing yourself along the way, nothing is ever sweeter than success.

I hope you will join me in empowering women to reinvent themselves to be the best they can be to make this world a better world

If you have more ideas please share them in the comments

Diversity starts at home,


Connect with me on:

Sahar Andrade, MB.BCh

Diversity, Inclusion, and Leadership Consultant- Certified Social Media Strategist

Sahar Consulting, LLC

Reinvent Yourself To Greatness (Product of Sahar Consulting, LLC)

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I help corporations and organizations create/ increase their employee engagement through Diversity, Inclusion, effective communication & Cross- Cultural leadership practices that result in everyone feeling appreciated, valued and respected for who they are; elevating morale and harmony hence increasing their productivity which translates to more revenues.

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