So Tired Of Singing The Glass Ceiling Blues

BlogHer Original Post

I want to be done with the glass ceiling. Completely done. I don't want to think about it. I don't want to talk about it. And, I certainly don't want to believe all those rumors on why it exists.

I am so sick of the excuses that researchers come up with, trying to explain why women have not shattered the glass ceiling, that I would like to give the bunch of them directions to the Billie Joe MacAllister's Tallahatchie Bridge. Unfortunately, the bridge collapsed in June of 1972 which, by the way, would have been an excellent date for the glass ceiling to collapse along with it.

In August, there was a flurry of stories about yet another study trying to explain away the statistics that women are underrepresented in leadership positions. This study, conducted at the University of New Mexico, finds "women have imposed their own glass ceiling." According to the researcher, the glass ceiling exists because,

...female managers are more than three times as likely as their male counterparts to underrate their bosses' opinions of their job performance.[...]The men who were studied slightly overestimated how their bosses would rate them, while the female respondents underestimated their ratings on average by about 11 percent.

Does that even make an iota of sense? Just because women underrate how they think their boss would evaluate them, what does that say about their bosses? What is their role in all this?

If this line of thinking is to be believed, it says it's women's psyches and nothing else that causes them to avoid applying for the big jobs.

The CEO of an international company once told me that they would love to have more women in senior positions in their company but that women generally didn’t apply for these jobs.

“I spend a lot of time interviewing both women and men and often the women will say ‘you have to be twice as good as a man’ and you hear that again and again. So there’s a sense the bar is set higher for women and there’s also that old truism that men apply for jobs they think they’ve got the potential to do, whereas women only apply for jobs they have demonstrated they can do. Recruitment agencies will say that a lot,” Dr Charlesworth said.

This same story resurfaced yet again last week at the Glass Hammer which includes an interview with Ann Perschel, an organizational psychologist who says that women who underrate themselves suffer significant career ramifications.

It is a weakness when it undermines confidence to the point that people, in this case women, may not voice their opinions, raise their hand for a difficult assignment, or advocate on their own behalf (for a raise or promotion) because they think the boss does not value them.”

Glass ceiling stories tend to boomerang around the internet like a bad hangover. These stories refuse to go away. So, even if you miss the analysis the first time around, you can rest assured that in a couple of months the story will reappear, providing endless reasons why women leaders can't cut it in corporate America.

In recent years, there has been an increased tendency in finger pointing toward women, blaming them for their own glass ceiling. How convenient.

Studies seem to focus on what women are doing wrong. We're too nice. Too caring. Too focused on our families. In 2007, a study concluded the reason for women's failure to get beyond the ceiling was not only a female inferiority complex but because other women find women leaders to be "bitchy, moody, gossipy and emotional."

The White House Project on Benchmarking Women's Leadership recently released a report on the state of women's equality which says that the majority of people believe "that women's fight for parity in the workplace has already been won." But there's more.

a recent GFK Roper poll indicates that a majority of Americans are comfortable with women as top leaders in all sectors, from academia and business to media and the military.

If that is true, than the glass ceiling should be crumbling a lot faster than it evidently is. Could part of the problem be with the term itself? Has "the glass ceiling" become nothing more than an annoying catchphrase, a trivialized buzzword right up there with "at the end of the day," " the big picture," "on the same page," and"put that one to bed?"

As phrases go, the glass ceiling may have outlived its purpose. Today it could be doing more harm than good, conjuring up images of women continuing to fight for something the general public believes they already have. In turn, that makes women seem unreasonable and impossible to please; not qualities you look for in leaders.

Dumbing down the issues of women and leadership into the euphemistic phrase, glass ceiling, oversimplifies a complex reality in today's workforce. Trying to pinpoint the root cause to one factor, like a woman's self-confidence, is simply laughable.

Like an old scratched 45, the message of women and leadership in corporate America seems to skip repeatedly without ever getting to the end of the song.

That's what is so encouraging about The White House Project on Benchmarking Women's Leadership, it goes beyond the analysis of why the situation exists.  It provides strategies on how to close the leadership gap, like amplifying women's voices in the public arena, achieving a critical mass of one-third or more women in leadership positions in all sectors, and maintaining accountability by setting targets.

That is music to my ears.

Elana writes about business culture at FunnyBusiness.


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