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Women: Are We to Blame for the Glass Ceiling?

October 16, 2013
URL: http://www.entrepreneur.com/article/229389

Enough about the glass ceiling.

There's nothing wrong with talking about barriers for growth for women in the workplace, but much of the conversation today paints the proverbial glass ceiling as if it's something women have no control over.

That sounds like victimhood to me. Women do have control, and in some ways, are to blame for the glass ceiling's continued existence.

As a woman, I have spent my whole career working in a male-dominated world. It's true that men generally make more money. They are also promoted more and, according to a recent story in The Wall Street Journal, they make up 66 percent of middle management, 86 percent of the overall executive suite and 96 percent of CEO positions.

Related: Facebook's Sheryl Sandberg: Eliminate Bias That Women 'Aren't Meant to Lead'

We work just as hard as men and therefore we deserve to be paid equally. But while there are many women's organizations demanding equality in the workplace, I would argue that these groups are actually doing more of a disservice than they are breaking the glass. Demanding something of someone never solves problems; it just Band-Aids the issue. If the problem were actually solved, we wouldn't be having this conversation 50 years after the Equal Pay Act was signed into law.

While we've made some good progress over the years, I believe some of the choices we have made have held us back from shattering this metaphoric barrier. Do you really want to get promoted just to fulfill a mandatory quota? Does that achieve true success? I would argue not.

Here's why I believe we hold ourselves back:

We place too much weight on the existence of the glass ceiling.
Perception is reality, and because we waste a lot of energy believing and put up with the idea that there is this metaphoric barrier in our way, it's killing our confidence. Everyone faces obstacles in their careers – even men. If you really want to get ahead you must tune out that noise and just go for it. When we pay attention to this so-called glass ceiling, we give it validation and, in turn, invalidate ourselves. Just because there is an obstacle in your way doesn't mean you have to accept it. Figure out a way to climb over it or maneuver around it. And if you figure out that you are at a dead end in your current job, do something about it.

We make choices and then complain about them.
The women who complain about inequality in the workplace are often the same women who want flexible work schedules or other benefits so that they can have it all. For many, having it all means deciding that you want to have a career and raise a family – and that's ok. You can have it all. However, you can't expect to be the CEO of a large multinational corporation if you don't put in the time to get there. And let's not forget that, according to a recent survey of 4,000 employees at big companies, 36 percent of men said they want to be CEO, whereas only 18 percent of woman said the same. Let's acknowledge the choices we make and not blame others for the results.

We are mean to each other.
This is the No. 1 reason why we hurt ourselves and keep the glass ceiling intact. We do very little to help ourselves in this area. According to a 2012 report by the Federal Aviation Administration on workplace bullying, 68 percent of workplace bullying is same-sex harassment and of that 68 percent, 80 percent of cases are women-on-women harassment. So ladies, what does that say? Why should men respect us if we don't respect ourselves?

Years ago during my tenure on Wall Street, I found myself navigating through a promotion and the transition was a bit bumpy. Most of my colleagues were helpful and supportive as I worked out the kinks. However, many of the women I worked with were the ones to be avoided. Rather than cheering me on, they were waiting for me to fail and made it clear that they had no interest in helping me succeed. It left me wondering: If we cannot mentor and support each other, if we cannot set aside the pettiness and cattiness to lend a hand to each other, then how on earth can we expect men to? 

There is a need for change for women in the workplace, but as with anything, change starts with us. We must believe we can have it all, accept our choices and then form strong alliances with each other. Demanding men treat us in a way that we don't even treat ourselves is counterproductive and, in the end, will ensure the glass ceiling always exists.

Related: Richard Branson on Sheryl Sandberg, 'Leaning In,' and Balanced Workplaces