International Women’s Day has come and gone. What an opportune time to raise the topic of women and the glass ceiling. Or rather, the lack thereof. I don’t think it exists.
Yes, there are factors constraining the growth of women in the workforce, but the depiction of the proverbial glass ceiling as something my fellow sisters and I are pushing up against is false.
Women have control and are in many ways to blame, not for the imaginary glass ceiling… but the sticky floor. Hold those stones – let me explain what I mean first.
Sticky floors are our self-limiting beliefs, assumptions, and sabotaging behaviours that undermine not only our own ability, but that of other women – to achieve their career goals and maximise the value we can bring to our teams and organisations. These sticky floors keep dragging us down every time we get a foot up the ladder.
I’m not going to sugar coat. I see and experience it time and time again: women have a tendency to pull other women down. They climb the ladder, and instead of giving other women a helping hand, they pull the ladder up from underneath them. They love being top ‘bitch’ at the boardroom table.
I’m often a stiletto in a room full of flats, having spent my entire career in male-dominated industries: mining, oil and gas, technology, property.
I’m not going to debate the fact men still make more money, are promoted more often, and are clearly the majority when it comes to board positions, C-suite roles and middle management. Just take a look at the composition of the leadership teams in most ASX-listed companies.
Women work equally as hard as men, and perhaps even more so. The majority still do “double time” by maintaining the family life at home. Do we deserve equal pay? Heck yeah. Many women’s organisations demand equality in the workplace. Hey that’s great, but I think we’re missing the crux of the matter. We want equal pay not because of our gender, but because we’re s**t hot at what we do, and can quantify the value we add. Ask yourself this question, ladies: do you just want to be a number that helps an organisation meet their quota, or to achieve true success based on your merits and capabilities? No doubt about it, for me it’s the latter.
I’m sick of being stuck. Aren’t you? The only way we can extract ourselves from the sticky floor is to band together, generating sufficient momentum to propel ourselves onward and upward.
Here’s how I think we do a disservice to ourselves:
1. We harp on and on about the fictional glass ceiling
Enough already. We create our own reality, and by perceiving the ceiling is real, a self-fulfilling prophecy perpetuates which obliterates our confidence. Newsflash: everyone faces obstacles in their careers – even men! Cut out the negative self-talk, clarify your goals and go for broke. You don’t have to accept obstacles. Find out how to navigate around them. If you decide your current role is going nowhere fast, I think you need to buy a bag of cement and toughen up. Come up with a plan to do something about it, then fully commit to its execution.
2. We complain about our choices
What does “having it all” mean to you? A high-flying career + hubby + 2.5 kids? Sure, it’s entirely possible to have the career and the family, they are not mutually exclusive. However, I’ve often found the loudest critics of workplace gender inequality are the same ones who want flexible working practices and generous benefits geared towards working mothers. I think the reality is: you can’t be the CEO of a giant global business if you don’t put in the time. Yes, there will be instances – perhaps many – where you miss the school drop off, the end of year recital, the final netball game. Either realise and make peace with the compromises and sacrifices that ensue, or don’t even go there. Each choice has a consequence. Let’s acknowledge and own the choices we make, not criticise other’s decisions.
3. We judge each other under the guise of “feminism”
If you’ve been living under a social media rock, you may not have seen the recent media controversy about Emma Watson’s Vanity Fair cover. She’s been branded a ‘fake feminist’ and a ‘hypocrite’. Let’s just ignore her tireless advocacy for gender equality, her work as a UN Women Goodwill Ambassador, the fact she’s graduated from Brown University with an English Lit degree, and has promoted education for girls in Bangladesh and Zambia. No… let’s just focus on her t*ts. Ridiculous.
4. We don’t support each other.
This is reason numero uno why the floor seems to be laced with superglue! We hurt each other. Witnessing it firsthand, and hearing many, many anecdotes from my professional network, I’m absolutely appalled. Sadly, it’s not surprising. I still bear the scars on my back from all the knives. If we don’t respect ourselves, why should anyone else?
Each time I’ve been awarded with a promotion or a stretch opportunity, it was the women I worked with who I had to make a wide berth for.
Men, especially ones with daughters, were my loudest cheerleaders and strongest advocates. They were the ones giving me advice, connecting me to people in their network, helping me climb the ladder one step at a time.
The women were waiting with baited breath for me to fumble. They made their disinterest in helping me succeed quite transparent. It was as if they viewed my success as taking something away from theirs. I am not alone. My experiences echo those of my girlfriends, does it sound familiar to you too?
(Read our article on why having more women in management doesn’t reduce the pay gap.)
How women treat each other in the workplace needs to change, but as with anything, it starts with us.
We must believe in ourselves, we must stand by our choices, we must acknowledge the tradeoffs in our decisions, and we must not be threatened by each other.
If we can do this, we truly will run the world. Just as Beyoncé said.
This is my personal story. What’s yours?