Women’s Leadership Focus: Breaking Through The Glass Ceiling

Last month, I wrote an article that mentioned my plans to climb the “next rung on my career ladder” by looking for an opportunity as an executive team member with an established organization. In reality, I’d already been interviewing for executive-level positions for four months prior and that article was purely my first public proclamation of this ambitious career goal. As a business columnist focused on leadership and career topics, I’d be remiss not to share my experience, observations and related thoughts with you so we can grow together.

Historically throughout my career, I’ve found it fairly easy to land my desired position once I set my mind to a goal. Perhaps much of this has been due to the fact that my chosen career as a human resources professional has enlightened me upon every possible “do” and “don’t” of interviewing protocol and job searching. In my most recent years as a management consultant, I’ve guided countless professionals as they successfully navigated through career transitions. I’ve worked with numerous executives for one-on-one coaching engagements to help them develop their leadership abilities and workplace relationships. However, none of this has prepared me for a reality that I never experienced. Until now.

For the first time in my career, I’m having a hard time advancing myself to the next level. Could this slow move beyond upper management and into an executive officer role be due to the “glass ceiling” we’ve all heard about? While there is no possible way to make an absolute assessment of proving the glass ceiling theory in my case, I can’t help but wonder. As a highly credentialed, experienced and confident candidate – who happens to be a woman – I’ve recently been told things by an all-male interview committee such as, “you think at too strategic of a level,” or “your ideas are too sophisticated so we went with a less qualified candidate.” As the runner-up for three different executive opportunities in the past several months, it felt like a smokescreen for something else. Was it coincidental that each opportunity would have made me the only female executive on their team? Perhaps.

If you look strictly at data, it will suggest that women do have a difficult time making the leap into an executive role. According to The Wall Street Journal, while women hold over half of the professional jobs in the United States, they only make up 34 percent of middle managers, 14 percent of executive officers, and a mere 4 percent of CEOs. In fact, out of the 500 companies on the Forbes Fortune 500 list, only 21 of those companies employ a woman as CEO. If you look at the earnings of women compared to men in our country, women earn only $0.77 for every dollar paid to men.

So, what can we do about this? While awareness is an essential first step to fixing any societal issue, the next step is empowering ourselves to control what we are able to influence the most – ourselves.

For other women who are having similar struggles and the loving men in their lives who care about helping them, here are three key things I’d suggest doing if you want to break through the glass ceiling and go to the next level.

1. Develop relationships.

Develop professional relationships with people outside of your department and company. Stay current on business trends by reading books, blogs and newspapers. Oftentimes, advanced leadership positions aren’t advertised, but are known through insider networking groups instead. Expand your network.

2. Develop your emotional intelligence.

Emotional intelligence is your ability to manage your own emotions as well as others, in order to reach desired outcomes. It’s the yardstick others use to measure our ability as competent leaders, and it’s all about how we handle ourselves and each other. The higher up on the corporate ladder you climb, the more critical it is for you to lead and inspire others to perform. It’s no longer all about you.

3. Adjust your attitude towards failure.

The higher your goals, the more risk you must take. The more you have to risk, the higher your likelihood of failure. New and scary experiences are necessary if you want to break the barrier. They provide you with the most opportunity for growth and increased confidence. Put yourself out there to be uncomfortable on a regular basis and watch your confidence grow as you come through it stronger and more resilient.

Most importantly, don’t sit back and wait. Create your own opportunities, figure out what needs to be done and make it happen.

Elizabeth P. Cipolla, SPHR is a business communications professional specializing in the areas of leadership training, creative recruitment strategies, employment branding, professional development and executive coaching for nearly 15 years. Her leadership experience comes from various industries including marketing, mass media, apparel, education, manufacturing, nonprofit agencies and insurance. To contact Elizabeth, email her at changeagentsee@gmail.com.