Most people are familiar with the concept of the glass ceiling. Many women use this metaphor as a way to describe how difficult it is to advance their careers in comparison to men. They can see where they want their careers to go, yet they can’t reach their goals, thus creating a metaphorical glass ceiling.
In her Washington Post article “How the ‘glass ceiling’ became such a powerful — and problematic — metaphor,” Jena McGregor notes that, while some companies are getting better at including women in leadership roles, there are now even more metaphors than before that capture the difficulty of being a woman in the workforce.
McGregor notes the different metaphors that exist in the workplace now. “Today, we have the ‘glass cliff,’ used to describe the disproportionate number of times women seem to be put into difficult leadership opportunities. We have the ‘maternal wall,’ or the career limitations that result from stereotypes of working mothers. There are ‘glass escalators’ (which describe how men in female-dominated occupations get promoted more rapidly) and even ‘sticky floors’ (used either to depict either the challenges women face in getting out of low-paying jobs or the limits women impose on themselves).” She also mentions that there’s a “concrete ceiling” that represents the obstacles women of color face when trying to advance their careers.
Inclusive leaders need to pay attention to the metaphors that are describing women’s experiences in the workforce. These metaphors show that, even though things have gotten better for professional women, there’s still a long way to go. It’s up to inclusive leaders to acknowledge the truth and frustration that lies in these metaphors, and it’s up to us to help make these metaphors obsolete.
Although it’s difficult to change workplace cultures everywhere, you can start by examining the culture of your own company. Start asking questions. Are qualified women being considered for promotions and leadership roles? Are there barriers that prevent women of color or women of different religions from having access to the same career advancement opportunities? Are new mothers facing discrimination for having a dual focus on their careers and their children? Answering these questions will be helpful in understanding how women feel working for your company.
The best way to learn about the obstacles that women face in their careers is to simply talk to them and listen to their feedback. You will not only gain their trust when it comes to these issues, but also learn where your company can improve when creating more ways for women to break through glass ceilings and fight through other metaphors that reflect their professional struggles.
These metaphors exist for a reason, and the fact that so many women in the professional world relate to them should be a wake-up call for employers. Pay attention to these metaphors, and learn how they apply to the women in your workplace. Let’s remove barriers facing all women — be inclusive of their concerns and their desire to advance their careers!
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