Falling Glass on a Sticky Floor.

by Denise Berger


Dictionary.com actually has a definition for “the glass ceiling”. Yes, it is true. It reads like this, “an upper limit to professional advancement, especially imposed upon women, not readily perceived or openly acknowledged.” Wow – it is remarkable that such a metaphor has become so entrenched in society that it has earned an official place in lexicon. And, yet, simultaneously, in common business conversations, it lacks a great deal of societal recognition. No sooner are we debating the reality of a glass ceiling when we are faced with the “sticky floor” theory. Yikes!! You can hear certain professionals exclaim that there is no such thing as a glass ceiling. Women have all the same opportunities to get ahead and make it to the top. Instead, women are not reaching the upper levels because they are stuck… in mud… like quick-sand.


First, let’s dispel the myth. Several studies cite that the notorious “glass ceiling” is not imagined, nor is it merely perceived. McKinsey recently reported in Women Matter, that “gender inequality continues to exist in management functions, and the increase in the number of female university graduates will not itself be sufficient to close the gap…Unless the current rules of the promotion system are changed, the growth in female graduate numbers will have a very marginal impact on women’s representation on governing bodies.” Until the root causes are addressed, male/female flanking career growth (next to, not in front of/not behind) will remain low and the glass ceiling will remain nothing short of authentic. Consequently, we can not pretend that societal and social barriers do not exist.


But the sticky floor theory is taking root as many professionals studying the sociological dynamics of upward mobility point out that women are actually responsible for holding themselves back individually. Women are cited for being self-limiting and self-defeating. Rebecca Shambaugh suggests in her 2006 Washington Business Journal articles that there are plenty of c-level women candidates but individually women tend to undermine their career growth. Many women tend to pay too much attention to the little details for too long. Rebecca points out that women can show reluctance to delegate and also a sense of loyalty and dedication to a current role or position -thereby preventing freedom to take on the next challenge. In addition, women can hold extremely high standards, which lean towards perfectionism rather than excellence.



It's very easy to get stuck on the sticky floor when you are juggling career and family! And you don't realize you're stuck until you've already been stuck a while! This article was very illuminating!


Thank you for these comments. Actually, I have been in many a dialogue over the issue of cultural shift. Yes, you are absolutely right that no matter how dedicated and hard-working the woman is, we still play in a society dominated by archaic standards of practice - being able to grab a drink with the powers-that-be at a moment's notice, or hanging around the office, or jumping on a plane anytime, to anywhere for that ever-important meeting. The common denominator is that our performance is still very tied to "TIME". And, until men step into the household arena more regularly, TIME is something limited and restricted for working moms and free and available for working dads. I am thinking that the current generation of working moms is the one stuck at the crossroads of a system based on a "leave-it-to-beaver" 50s work model and the next generation that will have grown up with many dual-income family structures and seeing their dads in more house-traditional roles (cooking, cleaning up, etc...) and they will be the ones to intervene in our culture, naturally, willingly and to the benefit of both men and women (and ultimately to corporations who will have been retention rates and thus better results, ultimately).

Marlene Robinson

Holding society accountable and changing the expectations of a Male-dominated capitalist economy are virtually impossible without an army of working moms leading the charge. I am capable, qualified and willing to go to the next level...as long as I can leave at 5:00 every day so that I can get home, cook dinner, bathe the kids, do homework and spend two seconds with my husband. Unfortunately the "expectation" is that anyone in leadership will be available well beyond the standard working hours. I get to work at 6am every day so that I can put in a minimum 10 hour day (but it is generally and 11 hour day). This is not good enough because those on the leadership team are expected to work until 6pm, attend evening functions and leadership dinners. How can I do that AND be a good mom? So...needless to say I've got to let go of my dreams of a developing career so that I can hold on to my desires to be a great mom.

It's all about choices and until society figures out that people need to have a healthy personal life in order to be good employees mom's don't have a chance! I think it's more about holding Dad's accountable to being home more so that the corporate expectation might begin to shift in favor of families having more family time. Everyone should demand that their personal time be respected...it's not just a "woman's" issue.


(sigh) Yes, I know this feeling. As my company is reorganizing the structure of my department, I realize that I have been focusing too much on the details and perfectionism of my current role. How do I know this now? Because I am finding my worth perceived by others not as the value and insight I can bring to new areas, but more as where my current duties are best suited to continue. Apparently I have pigeon holed myself into a role that I am not interested in...a job I took 4 years ago in the hopes of getting my foot in the door for something I would love to do. I blame only myself, for getting stuck on that sticky floor, instead of planning and making moves towards my future.

So thank you for this article. Because between this article and the recent dose of reality I was fed, I am ready to let go of the loyalty, and start taking on new challenges to move forward with finding a career that matches my passion, leadership, and excellence.