Breaking the Glass Ceiling

breaking the glass ceiling

Breaking the Glass Ceiling

THE GLASS CEILING

When people speak about breaking the glass ceiling, I’m often confused by the phrase.  I also find it difficult to understand why the term is still in use.  In an article posted in July 2016, Gender Pay Gap statistics are explained. 

THE GLASS FLOOR

In this article, I take the phrase on.  As a young lady, where most people saw a glass ceiling, I saw a glass floor and walked across it gingerly. I love the sound of breaking glass (an ode to Nick Lowe).  But that love doesn’t extend to crashing through it with my head.

The Google Dictionary defines glass ceil·ing (noun): an unofficially acknowledged* barrier to advancement in a profession, especially affecting women and members of minorities.  N.B. other sources use the term”… unofficially & unacknowledged…”

GENDER CONSTRAINTS

There is NO glass ceiling.  While having the FIRST Woman president would be a ceiling broken.  That ceiling is more like steel-reinforced concrete. Hilary could have gotten through glass easily. Whatever you think of her, you know she could kick Bill’s butt.

A LUCKY GENERATION

My generation was quite lucky.  My friends proved there was no glass ceiling.  One of my female friends ran a backhoe on construction sites in the Midwest; another worked as a pipefitter on Trident Submarines and another woman owned her own factory.  Me? I traded options on the floor of two national exchanges.  Not terribly feminine career choice. But four very happy, lucky women. 

ONE GENERATION EARLIER

In a previous article, I spoke about the female role models in my family.  Recently, I found a tea-stained newspaper cutting when cleaning out my parent’s apartment. The article spoke of an award my mother won:

  • Upon graduating university at 19, she received an award to act as guest editor for a fashion magazine.  When asked about her goals, she said: “Next I will interview Mr. Marcus from Neiman-Marcus” (this was 1949).  Yet, when I asked her about it, she seemed nonplussed. 

Neiman-Marcus was an interesting study.  Founded in 1907 a devastating fire in 1914 burned down their store & inventory.  By 1950, the store had moved to their new 63,000 square foot headquarters which featured amongst other things Alexander Calder’s mobile, “Mariposa”. 

  • When I asked how she would get that level of interview, she shrugged and said, “well asking helps.  The worst they can ever say is no”. 

Perhaps she was the reason I saw no fear.  In our midnight talks during the years before she passed, I told her it was her fault I didn’t see a glass ceiling.  To which she replied, “right, because it had been cleaned – you couldn’t see the smudges of the heads which bumped into it before you”.   Out of the mouth of mom’s come pearls of wisdom.  As much time as I’d spent with her, traveling, hanging out and I never she’d done so much and won so many awards.  Mom was a badass.  

POSSESSION IS 9/10th’s OF THE LAW

What was once a catch-phrase to reflect a women’s lack of equality, “Glass Ceiling” is now an outdated expression. Most women can put their fist through a piece of glass.  We may not choose to do so, but you take my point. So even using the term ‘glass’ points to an inherent weakness in the female gender.

As we took ownership of the word B***h maybe we should take the term Glass Ceiling, change it to a “Concrete Wall” and re-name womanhood “the wrecking ball”.  Either that or just throw the whole concept away.  I’m open to suggestions. 

NO CHEESE WITH OUR WHINE

It’s important to separate whining and true economic inequality. 

  • Each situation is unique.  Don’t expect X because Y gets Z.  
  • Don’t play the chick card and whatever you do, don’t cry.
  • Be prepared to defend your right to equal pay by doing equal work and turning in equal performance.  Accountability is essential in a good negotiation.  

There once was a boss who said to a young trader “well you don’t need as large of a bonus as X because you don’t have any kids”.  Her response? “OK, then I’ll need a few months off for pregnancy leave” handing them a sheet detailing the revenues the firm would forgo (based on profits attributed to her) plus the cost of aforementioned pregnancy leave.  A quick cough, a shoulder shrug, and the trader won a small battle. 

LESSONS LEARNED

  • The takeaway from that battle is how much strength is gained by keeping the gender issue moot, just a simple fact of life.
  • Instead, engage management in an unemotional negotiation.  A professional negotiation.
  • Where we’re judged not for the color of the soles of my shoes, but by my revenue production.  (I hope someone gets the internal analogy).   

NEGOTIATION

  • With this headset of negotiation, leave the whine at the door.  To cite differences in pay as “unfair” will only be met with eye rolls.  Life is unfair.  Surely we can come up with a better reason for economic equality, no?
  • Similar to Sisyphus rolling his rock up the hill, my generation’s battle for equal pay brought women incremental gains. 

TOMORROW’S WOMAN

Today my step-daughter has shown me how progress moves us forward, without even trying.  Highly educated, with one advanced degree (so far) she works in philanthropy, writing grants as well as picking organic vegetables.  She lives in the country with her husband and toddler.  She is my role model for tomorrow. 
(Mask slip:  although I wish she could do it on the UES of Manhattan).  

It’s my hope tomorrow’s woman won’t even hear the term Glass Ceiling. 

  • Perhaps tomorrow’s woman will see limiting phrases are often self-fulfilled. 
  • Perhaps tomorrow’s woman will understand why some men reach the corner office, while more don’t. 
  • Men too have their own ceiling.  Regardless of the reasons. 
  • Ceilings exist for everyone in the recesses of our minds.  

Self-actualized individuals will examine their strengths and limitations. 

SUMMARY & CONCLUSION

What can employers do to make diversity more than a poster in the corporate cafeteria? Well, here’s my two cents:

  • When we have large-scale events (like the credit crisis) which bring about wholesale change in a business line, RE-TRAIN your value chain from start to finish.  
    • Allow cross training and mentorship.
    • Training across the value chain instead of intra-silo will make the value chain clearer to everyone.
  • Loyalty, while vital, doesn’t end when an employee leaves.  They will be at another firm’s desk, doing a similar function.  Foster this idea of impermanence. 
    • Gone are the days of the gold watch upon retirement and 50 years of service.
    • Allowing our employees to become stuck in one culture doesn’t provide room for growth.
    • I’ve made many great partnerships with people to whom I once reported.  

A link from the past to the future: people attending high school next year were born after 9-11.   They also attended school in the age of the internet.  Today, they grapple with medical insurance.  Tomorrow, they will be grappling with what to do with elderly parents.  Today, we see untold areas of geopolitical risks.  Tomorrow we will see a very different world.  Tomorrow’s woman is being raised with the knowledge that ideas fail.  And that’s expected.  Adjust your sail and remain flexible to change. 

After all, Change is…Constant.  (plus plug…. oh wait this is my site!)

Okay, I’m done…. Soapbox is yours -à

 

The New IBOR