How To Break The Glass Ceiling And Enjoy The View From The Top

CoachHub · 28 November 2022 · 6 min read

Too many women are familiar with the image of a glass ceiling. Watching your male colleagues progress with ease as your female colleagues face limitations that hold them back. Breaking the glass ceiling in any industry is a challenge yet not at all impossible.

While the workplace is not free from bias and discrimination for women, we have more presence and power than ever seen before. With more female leaders today than ever we finally see role models who have shattered the glass ceiling and have ample access to resources for us to do the same. For every limitation, obstacle and glass ceiling, there is a way beyond.

What is the glass ceiling?

The ‘glass ceiling’ is a concept referring to invisible limitations that women face as they progress in their careers. The idea suggests that there is a transparent barrier that blocks women from climbing the professional ladder.

Women have been long subjected to unequal treatment at work. From harassment to discrimination it is not always easy for women to progress in the professional world. Thankfully, times are changing and the workplace is evolving into a more inclusive and equal place for everyone. As more women become leaders they are bringing a more compassionate and empathetic quality to workplaces and are proving their immeasurable worth. Women are shattering stereotypes and glass ceilings and soon, the term may even become obsolete.

Examples of the glass ceiling

  • Exclusion from decision-making processes and executive meetings
  • Pregnancy or family aspirations stopping women from being promoted.
  • Men being promoted because they are the main ‘breadwinner’
  • Unequal access to training and resources
  • High stake projects being assigned to males
  • Experiencing harassment or discrimination based on gender
  • Leadership training workshops or networking events being dominated by men
break the glass ceiling

Why does the glass ceiling exist?

The professional world has been dominated by male leaders for the last number of decades. This has allowed masculine values to define the metrics for success and for biases to become deeply embedded in workplace cultures. This has predisposed men to success in higher leadership positions and has exposed women to certain limitations, such as the glass ceiling.

Several factors have contributed to the emergence of a glass ceiling. Women are often forced to take long career breaks in order to have children while men can continue to work. Masculine characteristics of assertiveness and strength are associated with successful leadership while feminine characteristics such as empathy and tenderness are less valued.

While these external factors largely account for the existence of a glass ceiling, there are some interesting internal factors to consider. HBR highlights how the motivations of high-achieving men and women can sometimes differ. The elements of a CEO role are perhaps more interesting to men as they are largely motivated more by power and financial gain. Women are more motivated by making an impact, collaborating and helping others. “Status, power, and reward were not enough to attract women to the role”.

There are a growing number of women climbing to the top of corporate ladders, displaying identical capabilities and motivations as men and are still not afforded the same opportunities and rewards.

How has the glass ceiling evolved?

The phrase was first coined by workplace consultant Marilyn Loden 39 years ago. At the time it was a common assumption that women “lacked the credentials and experience” required to be successful in leadership positions.

This has significantly improved with remarkable progress being made by women in recent decades. Loden highlights how “women have closed the education gap, moved into non-traditional jobs at remarkably high rates, simultaneously managed families and challenging careers, and demonstrated their ability to innovate, inspire and manage effectively in every sector of the global workplace”.

While only 6.4% of Fortune 500 companies are run by female CEOs today, we do see this changing at a significantly faster rate this decade than ever before. In 2021 the number of women running businesses on the Fortune 500 was 41, an all-time record.

Although positive change is occurring, workplace standards are still less favorable for women. Women often have to work much harder to prove themselves and are still subjected to inappropriate behavior such as discrimination and sexual harassment. A recent study of 3000 American workers found that “out of the female respondents, 68 percent indicated they’d experienced sexual harassment at work, but only 30 percent reported the behavior”.

Change is slow. The corporate world is still very much dominated by male values and suffering from toxic masculinity but professional women have more power and potential than ever before. Women do not need to accept the cultures that exist and have a significant role to play in how the professional world evolves.

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How to shatter the glass ceiling

Do not buy into the concept

There is an infinite list of tools and techniques that you can follow to shatter the glass ceiling but as long as you believe it exists you will be limited. The greatest way you can shatter the glass ceiling is to refuse to feed the narrative. When you stand against the narrative and believe that every opportunity that is available to men is equally available to you then the limitations of a glass ceiling shatter. Your attitude and behaviors will reflect this belief, setting yourself apart from others. When you refuse to accept the limitations in front of you, you immediately shatter them.

Build strong relationships with people in leadership positions

Look to people in leadership positions that you admire and would like to learn from. Get to know what makes them successful and how they have been able to reach their position within the company. Good relationships with those in leadership positions will not only help you to gain valuable insight into what it takes to climb the ladder but will also create visibility. Leaders will know who you are, your motivations and your ambitions.

Become an expert in your field

The truth applies to men as well as women, experts get to the top. Become dedicated to knowing everything you can about your industry. Stay up to date with changes and updates and constantly work to improve your skills. Devote yourself to reaching expert-level status and you will significantly improve your chances of promotion.

Stop selling yourself short

Typically speaking, women are less inclined to engage in self-promotion and speak about their achievements. Do not be afraid to sell yourself. Once you trust in your abilities and are proud of your accomplishments then share them with confidence, not arrogance. Own your ambition, your achievements and do not hold yourself back.

Get coaching from people in your industry

Working with professionals with the purpose of developing your professional skills is one of the fastest ways to grow. You gain valuable insight and expert techniques that will propel you forward in your professional life. A coach can provide you with tailored programs that serve your unique goals and be a source of motivation to keep you on track.

how to shatter the glass ceiling

Learning to say “no” and avoid the “glass cliff”

Studies show that women are more likely to be selected for leadership roles when there is a state of crisis or a high risk of failure. There is much speculation about the reason for this phenomenon. It is important to be aware of this situation and evaluate which opportunities serve you best. Learning to say no when the opportunity does not align with your values and aspirations is vital to ensure you take your career in the best direction.

Spread awareness

Take part in spreading awareness within your workplace about women’s empowerment and ending masculine-dominated cultures at work. Organize forums to enhance communication between men and women. Open and honest conversations around sexual harassment, gender inequalities and male privilege need to occur so they can be transcended and replaced with more equal and empowering cultures.

In conclusion

As a woman in the workplace, you may face more obstacles, prejudice and limitations. Not to be forgotten is your power to overcome them and create positive change wherever you go. No toxic culture should be accepted and no limitation should stop you from achieving your goals. There are several resources available to transcend any obstacle and break through the glass ceiling. Consider taking part in CoachHub’s women’s leadership development program. Our coaches have been working with women to overcome the limitations they face and to truly step into their power as a leader.

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Cathy Stapleton
Cathy is an Irish writer based in Berlin, Germany who is passionate about using words to inspire growth. As a certified mindfulness facilitator and performance coach, Cathy aims to create work that helps people connect with themselves and heighten their awareness. When she is not writing she is usually running in nature, meditating or contemplating an existential crisis.

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