The famous Glass Ceiling – how real is it?

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A recent study by the ILM discovered that 73% of women  believe a glass ceiling (obstacles) is preventing them from reaching senior positions. The ILM survey identified that women are held back by lower confidence and lower ambitions and hard factors such as maternity and child
care related issues. Some articles even go so far as to say that the glass ceiling only exists in women’s heads. Fact is, fewer women than men aim for and/or reach senior management positions.

When I researched this topic, I was reminded of Henry Ford’s
famous quote: “Whether you believe you  can do a thing or not, you are right.” Whether the glass ceiling is real, a  collective myth or a figment of a woman’s imagination does not really matter.  For the women who feel that it exists, it is very real and influences their  career and often life decisions.

For each woman the glass ceiling is likely to be slightly  different. Each woman has her own set of limiting beliefs (e.g. how ambitious  she can be, how much she is worth) and her own external obstacles depending on  the environment (e.g. company, chosen career field, country) she lives and  works in.

In this and the following article I want to explore what we  as women can do to break through our glass ceilings, external or internal, real  or imagined, and achieve the success we want in your chosen career or life  path.

In order to deal with our glass ceiling we first have to  identify and get to know it.

So, what or where is  your glass ceiling? What is holding you back?

This is not an easy exercise to do and takes a bit of time  and effort. Ideally, write down any thoughts that come to mind when you ask  yourself the above question. I invite you to review the area of your life that you feel most dissatisfied with. It can be in your career, your studies, your  home life, your fitness, or any other area of your life. What are you telling  yourself about this area of your life? Listen out for any phrases like: ‘I  can’t go any further because’, ‘I am held back by’, ‘there is no point,  because’, ‘I am not’, ‘it is very hard for me to’. If you can write all these  down and really get to know your glass ceiling.

One of the findings of the ILM survey was that a lot of  women did not want to become managers. Therefore before we deal with the glass  ceiling we need to be absolutely clear on whether we really want that next management position or not (or any other goal beyond our glass ceilings).

How important is  ‘breaking through’ your glass ceiling to you?

To achieve our goals we need to dedicate time and effort. We  often have to be prepared to sacrifice other activities in the short or long  term. The same goes for breaking through glass ceilings. So if all your real  and perceived obstacles were no longer there, and as if by magic the glass  ceiling would disappear, and you had that next promotion (or substitute here whatever your glass ceiling is), what would that be like? Imagine yourself having achieved it and being that senior manager (or having moved beyond your glass ceiling). Would it be worth it? And what other areas of your life (if any) have gained or suffered?

If you totally and utterly want to move beyond your currently perceived glass ceiling, then there are a number of things you can do to either break it or at least start getting it to crack in places. Some ideas I want to offer you are:

Break or put cracks into your glass ceiling

For each statement you wrote down earlier on what is holding
you back, do the following:

  • For each obstacle, write down what it would or
    could take to get rid of it, put a crack in it or move beyond it.
  • Ask yourself, what belief would be more useful
    to have instead or what would your ideal scenario be? And what evidence would
    you need to support this?

Be as creative as you can and accept any thought that comes to mind. If you find this difficult, imagine a friend wrote down all those obstacle statements and she asked you to help her find ways to deal with her obstacles or glass ceiling.

Now consider the following, if the glass ceiling was not there, how would act differently right now, today, tomorrow, next week?

Sometimes, it can help us to just mentally move beyond our obstacles. Pick just one of your obstacles and imagine the opposite was true (or your ideal scenario). What would that be like? What would change in your behaviour as a result of the opposite of this obstacle being true? If you can, try it out in practice and act differently and see what happens. You might be surprised by the results.

As this is a topic that is affecting a lot of women, we will come back to it next week with some hints and tips how to break through, smash or at least get some cracks into that glass ceiling.

I look forward to your thoughts and comments.

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4 responses to “The famous Glass Ceiling – how real is it?

  1. Lots of good thoughts here. In addition to the points you make, there seems to be good evidence that there are structural issues at play as well. I’m in academia, and the numbers there are so shocking that we know we have to act. I wrote about this a bit in “A slow thaw for women”: Gender imbalance can’t be repaired simply by “fixing” women, because that’s not where the problem is entirely found. It’s also found in the systems around us. The same CV for example is judged differently by expert panels if it’s a woman’s name or a man’s name. Lot of research on this issue is available, including good recent stuff at
    carry on!

  2. Pingback: What’s your ‘obstacle’ strategy? | Being a successful Woman

  3. Pingback: It’s so easy to give up on your dreams, isn’t it? | Being a successful Woman

  4. Pingback: The compelling world of ‘Feminine Power’ | Being a successful Woman

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