Does the glass ceiling effect really exist?

For International Women’s Day 2021, I was invited by Sarona Wolter to the HypeWomen Podcast to talk about the glassceiling effect and what I choose to challenge at the workplace. You can listen to the full recording here.

The glass ceiling has been used as a metaphor since the 1980s to describe an invisible barrier to advancement at the workplace. It is usually used in the context of women but it can apply to any demographic that is in a minority.

Despite corporate and legal protections at the workplace, does the glass ceiling effect really exist? And if so, what can we do about it?

The glass ceiling effect is a concept that can affect not just career progression but also mental health. There are enough statistics that show underrepresentation of women in management or leadership positions, or even as part of the workforce. When there are no laws that actually prevent women to occupy certain positions, and women today are more educated and qualified than they have ever been, something does not add up.

The effect is something with minimal to no evidence hence it cannot be proved, but is something that can be felt.

An example of the glass ceiling effect is a woman of childbearing age considered less motivated than her male counterparts. This could be triggered by the fear of the employer that she either might take time off for parental leave leading to the struggles of finding a short-term replacement, or she might not be as committed to her job when she returns due to maternal priorities.

The glass ceiling effect goes beyond issues of gender and race and targets inherent biases based in cultural and traditional stereotypes which are not openly spoken about at the workplace. It can lead to a person overcompensating to go against the perceived stereotype, whether it is downplaying certain skills, or even changing the language which they use to be able to “fit” in and advance in the career track.

What can you personally do to combat the glass ceiling effect?

Don’t give in

The best way to fight the effect is to actually believe you are equal and not let anyone convince you otherwise. It won’t be comfortable having challenging discussions with peers and managers, but being resilient and sticking to your beliefs is the first step.

Use your skills to your advantage

Reflect on skills that can give you an advantage and build on them whether it is the skill to create strong professional relationships, demonstrate empathy, patience and tolerance, or just the mere ability to listen and be compassionate which can help in attaining goals in the work place.

Be vocal

It is important to be assertive and speak out, especially when facing situations which might appear ‘invisible’ to someone else.

The glass ceiling effect is very much pervasive, and is getting the needed attention, thanks to the hot topic of Diversity & Inclusion that organizationa in almost every industry are looking at in 2021. Flex time options and evaluation bias will become areas of focus by organizations in the next years, but being aware of the issue is the first step. The next step is to make it more ‘visible’ to enable the possibility of a systematic change.