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Thought Leadership | 8th March 2019

Women Creating Their Own Glass Ceiling

Read Time: 5 minutes


Phoebe’s perspective:

Despite what history has concluded for women, we are still 36% more likely to attend university than our male counterparts,1 and, on average, we do better at our A-Levels, with nearly 80% of girls graded A* to C, compared to 75% of boys.2

Yet, despite our academic one-up, when we step into the corporate world, we’re paid less and are less likely to secure the top roles than men.  

Last July, I graduated (along with many other women, and some men) from Newcastle University with a degree in Journalism. It would often strike me as strange that despite the majority of national newspaper editors being white men, on my course, the males were completely outnumbered.   

This (along with a love of Simone de Beauvoir’s ‘The Second Sex’) was the reason I decided to write my final year dissertation on the glass ceiling for female journalists. 

During my research, I came across the ‘glass elevator’ theory which suggested the concept of the glass ceiling is out-dated and that rather than there being a ceiling for women, men are simply more likely to gain promotions due to an unconscious bias or a ‘boys club mentality’. From my perspective of growing up during the third and fourth wave of feminism, with movements such as ‘#MeToo’, this theory made sense to me. Women are starting to shatter the glass ceiling (now more so than ever) but that doesn’t necessarily mean that men aren’t still advancing in their glass elevators and abusing their power at the top.  

Unfortunately, my dissertation taught me that there is a myriad of obstacles that can get in the way for women, such as the biological backfoot that motherhood puts us on, and the sometimes-unconscious belief of employers that women are less capable (a belief that can be held by both women and men).  

A recent article by the Guardian has officially debunked the myth of a gendered brain, which means the claim that women aren’t reaching the top roles because we’re ‘wired differently’ and have a lack of ambition, can finally stop being used as an excuse for a lack of change. I personally believe that it is time for men to understand and accept their privilege and attempt to do all they can to ensure their female colleagues and employees feel respected and equal.  

When I look to the future, I’ll admit that I don’t envision a glass ceiling in my way. That said, my dissertation has stripped me of any naïve beliefs that I will never face obstacles in work as a result of my gender.  

From listening to the sometimes-distressing experiences of the female journalists I interviewed for my dissertation, to friends that are already navigating misogynistic bosses and harassment, I feel incredibly privileged to have the start in my career that I have had.  

I have a strong, ambitious female boss, whom I look up to, as well as feeling respected by my colleagues, regardless of my gender or age. It is a start such as this, that has made feel optimistic about my future. However, my dissertation taught me to understand that not everybody’s experiences are the same, and those who experience advantages must not forget about those who don’t. No one should be left to battle with the glass ceiling alone.


Karen’s perspective:

My opinion could be considered controversial here, but I believe that women can sometimes create their own glass ceilings.  Yes, there are many male dominated organisations, and board members are still very weighted towards men.  However, I have always believed that confidence, attitude and how you respond makes a huge difference to the difficult situations that we women can sometimes find ourselves in.    

If you walk around believing there is a glass ceiling above you and choose not to deal with it, then there will always be one.    

Much has been written about men being more forceful than women in their career demands, and in 2013 (was it that long ago) Shelley Sandberg encouraged women to “Lean In” and take their place at the table, reinforcing the belief that it is all about confidence and attitude.  

I was fortunate enough that, from very early in my career, I became a successful sales representative, which meant I quickly gained the respect of my peers (male and female) which gave me the confidence I needed to take things further.  Before long, I joined a global PR agency where the Chair, CEO and Finance Director were all women.  This instilled in me many of the work ethics, policies and practices that run through my own company today. 

I believe that the reason I have never seen the glass ceiling is because I never allowed it to be put in place.  Nor have I ever believed that I should work “twice as hard” as a man to get ahead.  I simply set my own goals and ambitions, put in a plan of action to achieve them. Before I knew it, I was at the top-of-my-game.  

For example, if I wanted to be promoted, all I did was ask what needed to be done to achieve it, and then work on developing my skills and knowledge to show that I could do the job.   

That’s not to say that I didn’t face any obstacles. I was once told that I could not have a promotion because it could upset a male colleague who might leave. So, I decided to point out, in the nicest possible way, that if I was not promoted, I would leave. I got the promotion. This instilled in me that my gender was irrelevant to my worth within the industry, which gave me the confidence, and the balls, to attack any obstacles thrown my way.  

There are, of course, some men out there who are intimidated by confident and ambitious women, such as myself. Often, it is these men who believe their position, money, and power entitles them to behave and treat women (and sometimes men less wealthy or less powerful) however they want. I sincerely hope that these dinosaurs are a dying breed, but it might be another decade before we see the end of this era. 

So, what can women do to ensure that they do not create their own glass ceilings? 

  • Never ever give up, no matter what life throws at you. Take a step back, formulate a plan, set small goals and move forward 
  • Stay clear of negative personality traits. Turn cannot into can, stop making excuses, or procrastinating, think how great you will feel when you achieve something amazing   
  • The difference between ‘thinkers’ and ‘doers’ is that doers demonstrate their commitment to their desires and plans 
  • Think less, act more, be the person you want to be  
  • Aspire upwards, it will help you see where you want to be 
  • Talk yourself up 
  • Focus on who you want to be 
  • Always consider your response. Don’t just jump. Learn to neutralise a difficult situation: think about what you want to say and how you want to say it 
  • Practice, practice, practice 
  • If you are unhappy, do something different, if you are bored do something different 
  • Dress the part, when I mean dress the part, I mean dress professional 
  • Confidence, confidence, confidence 
  • Lastly, you don’t need to be a man to succeed… It’s ok to celebrate your femininity –especially with a great pair of Jimmy Choo’s. 

 So, I’ll leave you with this quote… 

“A good pair of shoes is designed with strong foundation, and we should apply this principle in our daily life. Even in entrepreneurship, it helps to first have a firm stand on your principles, beliefs and objectives, so that when hardships come, your foundation is strong enough to keep you upright – Jimmy Choo 


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