Helping Females Overcome Glass Barriers to Advancement
By Joan Runnheim Olson
While women have come far in the workplace, according to a recent Barack Obama ad, women are paid "77 cents on the dollar for doing the same work as men.” What accounts for this disparity and how can women move up the proverbial career ladder? What can career practitioners do to help their clients gain traction and break the glass ceiling?
In an article by the Huffington Post, the author shares research by Catalyst, a non-profit organization that seeks to expand women's roles in the workplace, stating that women still run just 3.6 percent of Fortune 500 companies. Women occupy only 16.1 percent of the board seats in the U.S., according to Catalyst.
Gender stereotypes of what is considered “women’s work” and “men’s work” still exist. Girls and boys are conditioned from birth to act a certain way, look a certain way, and encouraged to fit into their respective gender roles even when considering their career options. These stereotypes can greatly impact their life-long earnings. Females are often encouraged to pursue “pink collar” jobs in the helping or service fields which typically pay lower wages. Women who want to advance in their career face several barriers including the glass ceiling, glass escalator, and glass cliff.
Women often drop out of the workforce to raise children and once they jump back in (or try to) their skills have become outdated. These women often find themselves at ground zero struggling to climb back up the ladder. Even women who remain in the workforce bump into the glass ceiling in their effort to advance in their career. In a Fortune article, contributor Anne Fischer points out that in five separate research projects, “…employed husbands in traditional marriages, compared to those in modern marriages, tend to view the presence of women at work unfavorably -- and, more frequently, to deny qualified female employees opportunities for promotion." This is just one example of the invisible barrier used to describe what women encounter when trying to reach the upper echelons in a company.
Many women also face a phenomenon called the “glass escalator” effect. This metaphor is used to describe the fact that men often get promoted faster than women, even in fields dominated by women. The nursing and education fields are flooded with women. When you take a look at the top though, it’s often men that hold the executive level positions.
According to research from Yale University, when a woman does make it to ahigh level job traditionally held by the opposite gender, she is judged more harshly for her mistakes. While the glass ceiling keeps women from rising higher, women face the danger of falling from the glass cliff.
Overcoming the Barriers
Career practitioners can help women break the glass ceiling, bypass men moving up the glass escalator, or help them avoid falling from the glass cliff. Below are some strategies you can share with your female clients:
Grow and Maintain Your Network
According to an article by Nicki Gilmour, Founder and CEO of theglasshammer.com, effective network building isn’t the same as networking and it is more than just socializing. Building your network requires more than idle chit chat with nice people. Look for events to engage with your peers. “All good networks provide support but should also provide access to senior members (both men and women) in your firm,” says Gilmour.
Join a professional industry-related association to keep up-to-date with your field and to meet new people. Gain more visibility by volunteering to serve on the board or pitching in at the annual conference. Not only is it important to expand your network outside the office, it’s important to network within your organization as well. Do you have coffee or lunch with colleagues from other departments? Networking within will help keep you visible and it will help you understand what is going on in other areas of the company.
Find a Mentor or Sponsor
Why not shorten the learning curve? Find someone who has “been there, done that.” A mentor can help guide you, connect you with other influential people, and help you over the hurdles on the way to the top. Typical developmental areas a mentor can help with include time management, stress management, prioritizing, teamwork, and communication skills.
A sponsor may be even more beneficial to your career. According to a recent Forbes article, “The New Case for Women on Corporate Boards: New Perspectives, Increased Profits,” “sponsorship is a more aggressive cousin of mentorship, involving advocating for the advancement of high-potential individuals in their careers.” Start looking within your network to identify a potential mentor or sponsor.
Toot Your Own Horn
Women often feel like they are bragging when sharing their accomplishments. However, if you don’t share them, who will? It can be as simple as, “I’m really excited to have just finished the ABC Project on time and under budget.” A good book to help clients overcome this fear is "Brag! The Art of Tooting Your Own Horn without Blowing It" by Peggy Klaus. The author says that self-promotion is recognized as one of the most important attributes for getting ahead, but learning to share your talents and successes without coming across as smug or rehearsed is a tricky skill. Her techniques can help readers become great self-promoters.
Helping Women Who Drop Out
For women who decide to remove themselves from the workplace to raise children or care for elderly parents, career practitioners can help these clients create a plan to maintain marketability while taking time off from paid employment. Encourage your clients to stay in contact with former colleagues and maintain membership in an industry-related professional association. Help them explore volunteer options or part-time or contract work to keep their skills up-to-date.
Joan Runnheim Olson is an internationally certified career coach who helps professionals move up, move forward, or move on in their career. She is a contributor to the recently published book, “WorkSmarts: Be a Winner on the Job” and is an invited expert blogger for the Career Thought Leader Consortium, a think tankfor the now, the new, and the next in careers. You can visit her website at www.pathwayscareer.com or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.