How to Break Through the Glass Ceiling

The glass ceiling is a term for that place in your career when you can clearly see the next level, but, no matter what you do, you can’t seem to get there. It originally referred specifically to women, and there’s reason for that. According to the Wall Street Journal, women hold over half of all professional jobs in the United States but only 34 percent of middle management. And that number drops as you go further up the corporate ladder: Women make up 14 percent of senior executives and a shocking 4 percent of CEOs. However, the term has since expanded to include anyone who can see the lext level but just can't seem to reach it. Fortunately, there are things you can do to shatter that glass ceiling:


Strategy #1: Observe and analyze.

Has your company ever lured a “superstar” away from another company, only to see that person fall flat on their face? The problem is company culture. Different companies value different skills and attributes, and they promote people who have them. However, those same skills could be seen as a detriment at another company. Someone who exceled at a company that values innovation and initiative could find themselves in trouble at a more traditional company that believes in running everything through the proper channels.


The answer is to take stock of the skills and attributes of the people in the next level at your company. Are they visionary? Impulsive? Cautious? Analytical? If a large number of executives share certain traits, you can be certain those are traits your company values.


Strategy #2: Adopt.

Once you know which characteristics your company values, it’s time to work on adopting those skills for yourself. Take online courses. Read books written by people who have those characteristics. Ask for feedback from a trusted mentor to find out what your weaknesses are perceived to be. Sure, it’s exciting to think of changing a company’s culture, but, if you really want that next big step, you need to think about how to make yourself fit in with the rest of senior management. You can worry about changing the culture once you’re there.


Strategy #3: Understand the big picture.

Middle management is all about execution. You may do a great job of accomplishing goals set by others, but the people above you will want to know if you’re capable of setting the goals. Deciding where the company needs to go is a very different skill from getting there effectively.


To develop that skill, read books by and about visionaries. Steve Jobs is a great example. So is Bill Gates. Or Sam Walton. You want to get inside the heads of people who can foresee the future of the business and lay a pathway to get there. It’s a real shift in mindset, and it’s one that separates the C-suite from the next rung down the ladder.


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Strategy #4: Find a sponsor.

A sponsor is not the same as a mentor. A mentor helps you develop your skills. A sponsor gets your name on the short list for promotions. A sponsor is more cheerleader and talent scout than coach. You won’t get the promotion if you’re not on the radar. A sponsor will put you there.

The glass ceiling is real, but it’s not shatterproof. With a lot of determination and a little planning, you can break your way through…and hopefully leave it open for those who come after you!


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