LEADERSHIP / MAR. 15, 2014
version 2, draft 2

Women and the Glass Ceiling

In celebration of International Women's Day on March 8, there were forums, events, and panel discussions all over the world. And while things have gotten increasingly better for women in the workplace, one thing that most working women agree on is that it still has a way to go.

One such event took place in Canada, where five top female executives from the Bank of Montreal's wealth management arm sat down to discuss the present, and future, of women in traditionally male-dominated fields. Their experience and ideas are good advice for any professional, whether male or female, and offer a unique perspective on moving up the corporate ladder.

Take Personal Responsibility

All five of the participants believe that the most important step for anyone is to recognize the need and to actually take responsibility for their own career advancement. No one is going to do it for you. It's crucial that you see your company as working in partnership with you, but it can't – and won't – do it all for you.

The women believe that you have to take charge, even while still very early in your career, if you want to move up. It's never too early. Don't sit back and wait for things to happen.

Find Yourself a Tribe

You'll need a network of supportive female colleagues. Not as an exclusionary group meant to ostracize men, but a network of people going through the same experience. It's (sadly) still not easy to break through the glass ceiling, or get invited to join the old boy's club, so having someone who understands exactly what you're going through can really help with the frustration and irritation that might come along.

The stereotype of back-stabbing and ultra-competitive women at work is just that – a stereotype. And one that needs to be retired, according to the five women on the panel. Their individual experiences were just the opposite...the women they met and worked with were ultra-supportive and would do anything to help each other out.

So, whether you're new to the company, or feeling trapped in your current position while male colleagues get promoted and move up, the message is simple.

Network. Introduce yourself to other women in the company if you haven't already. Find a tribe.

Seek Out a Mentor

As a logical extension of the tribe advice, all of the women agree that you would be wise to find yourself a mentor. While it may feel a bit old fashion, both men and women in a professional mentor relationship usually benefit from the association.

But the trick is finding the right mentor. You don't want to just zero in on the most senior female executive you can find. You need to find someone that you feel a natural bond or connection with. Attend networking events. Put yourself out there.

“Finding a mentor is sort of like finding a hair-dresser,” said Myra Cridland, “it's someone you have to have some chemistry with, and they take a personal interest in you.”

The right mentor, besides providing a positive and supportive dynamic, gives you someone on the “inside”. Someone that has already broken through, in one way or another, and can provide guidance and promote you from within.

The five women on the panel all felt it was their obligation to help others in the “battle”, and they are more than happy to do so.

Be Honest About Family Stuff

Another noteworthy observation from all of the women had to do with family and home life. It used to be that women in the workplace either had to, or felt they had to, hide the fact that they were also wives, mothers, and caregivers. They had to keep that aspect of their lives hidden away, and should demonstrate embarrassment whenever it intruded on their professional world. Their male colleagues would smile in that condescending smirk and nod knowingly when mom had to go home early and take junior to the dentist.

Not anymore.

One of the women remembers being told to place a jacket on the back of her chair and have her office door open whenever she had to leave early for family reasons. That way, she was advised, it would appear she was still at it somewhere in the building, and she could avoid questions.

Nowadays, women need not feel “family-shamed”. If your responsibilities at home take you away for some reason, be honest about it, and don't ever apologize. Besides, the women all argued, how could sneaking out ever be considered good for your career advancement?

It's Better, But Still Not Equal

Last but not least, the women all feel like the situation in many countries is better, but we're still not there. Women still only make 77 cents, on average, for every one dollar that their male colleagues make in the United States, for example. The progress is good, and there have been tremendous steps forward, but things have slowed since the late 1980s and early 1990s. It's up to women in the workforce – at all levels and in all fields – to drive it forward and give it momentum once again.

Their overall message is clear. Take responsibility. Find a tribe. Get a mentor. Be honest. Be both a professional woman and a wife or mother, if that is who you are. Work hard. And try not to let it get to you. The glass ceiling, after all, is only made of glass.

 

Photo by sam_churchill

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