It Is Not The Glass Ceiling, It's You!
July 19, 2012 • comment(s)
Each time someone tweets about the lack of women in top management (only 4% of Fortune 500 women are CEOs) I squirm. Not just because of the stark reality of the situation but the rhetoric that will soon follow on re-tweets and comments soon after. The gut reaction of most people is to talk about the proverbial glass ceiling but there are factors beyond that which don’t normally get highlighted. For instance, What role do women have (if any) in ‘upholding’ that glass ceiling?
There is no question that women face unique obstacles as they advance their career. The glass ceiling is real… but what is also real in many cases it is self-sabotaging behaviour that prevents women from reaching their potential. Are you limiting your own potential by engaging in such behavior? For instance:
1) Are you afraid to fail? There are few, if any, great accomplishments in human history that were accomplished without a high level of risk. Neil Armstrong and his fellow astronauts risked their lives in pursuit of their goal of landing on the moon. Rosa Parks risked everything by refusing to give up her bus seat which was reserved only for white people at the time … despite having little reason to believe that her actions would make any difference. Yet her action changed the course of race relations in the US. Achieving success requires risk-taking, in life and in your career.
You must be willing to take a risk… whether it is volunteering to manage a project, requesting that you be considered for a promotion, or leaving a “safe” position in pursuit of an opportunity that is more fulfilling. As John A. Shedd once wrote, “A ship in harbor is safe — but that is not what ships are built for.” Be confident in your abilities, but understand that failure is inevitable from time to time. Don’t be shocked and demoralized when things go wrong. Learn as much as you can from each experience—and then get on with your life! (Useful link: Faliure 'is' an option. Celebrate it.)
2) Are you limiting your own potential? . Henry Ford once said that “If you think you can, or think you can’t; you’re right.” “I’ll never be an effective manager.” “People won’t take me seriously.” These are classic examples of self-imposed limitations. Essentially, you are facing two sets of limitations in life—true limits, and those that are self-imposed.
A true limit is something that you simply can’t do… for instance, no matter how hard you try, you’re never going to have the ability to fly merely by wavinG your arms. Self-imposed limitations, on the other hand, are just that: limitations you arbitrarily place on yourself. We’ve all been there! “I can’t learn a foreign language.” “I’m terrible at mathematics.” “I can’t speak in front of peopleTake a moment and think about the limitations that you face in your career. How many of them are “true” limitations, and how many are limitations you have imposed on yourself? (Useful link: Learn to stop placing limitations on yourself)
3) Are you afraid to engage in office politics? Women tend to shy away from office politics—but it is a game that you must learn to play. While often unpleasant, office politics result from the reality that every office is populated by individuals with distinct personalities and their own ambitions.
The competitive nature of the corporate world dictates that there will always be fewer jobs available than there are people who desire them. This is true from entry-level positions all the way up to senior leadership. So, women have two choices: engage in politics which may be unpleasant from time to time… or stay clear of them and essentially give up their chance to advance their career.
Whether your goal is to one day be the CEO of a world-class corporation, or simply to secure a job that you enjoy, it is a fact is that you’re going to face obstacles. It is also a fact is that many things that you can do to overcome those obstacles are within your ‘own’ reach. Don’t waste your time dwelling on the issues that are beyond your control… instead, focus on what you can do. There is an old saying that “luck is when preparation meets opportunity.” Focus your energy on preparing… and when your opportunity comes along, you will be in position to capitalize.
Tanvi Gautam, PhD, is the Managing Partner of Global People Tree (HR consulting and training firm). Her work has been featured in platforms such as Forbeswomen and The Glass Hammer. When it comes to women and leadership she reminds her clients: “If not you, then who. If not now, then when ?” Follow her on Twitter (@tanvi_gautam) and blog at www.wowfactor.asia.