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.
Some of this behavior may be a reflection of a ricochet effect against the perception that women can have it all. In fact, women can not do it all - - or at least can not do it all, all the time. Why? Why were we told by an earlier generation, which broke through on multiple levels, that we can have it all… and now we are finding that it is simply not a realistic expectation? As Gloria Steinem pointed out at the recent Women’s Conference in Long Beach, CA women are still expected to conform to society rather than holding society accountable to conform to women. Turns out, the glass ceiling and the sticky floor are not mutually exclusive. They co-exist! We can break through the glass ceiling as long as expectations change to better measure and allow for success under new terms and variables. Only then will we be able to lift ourselves off that sticky floor and chip away at the glass.
Do you find yourself wondering which came first – the glass ceiling or the sticky floor and is one a cause of the other?