Dealing With The Ceiling


Looking at the captains of industry, one would be forgiven for thinking that there are far more men in our country than women. It is not that women do not want to be captains of industry too – there are plenty of ambitious, driven and clever women around who are more than capable of filling CEO shoes, and doing a really good job of it.

There may be some women who are socialized into wanting to become stay-at-home mums, but the harsh reality is there are many women who are the sole breadwinners in our country.  So why are these breadwinners not heading organisations, and why have they not joined the ranks in the top echelons of these organisations?

Unfortunately, it is due to the glass ceiling. The subtle undertone and culture of most organisations is that women bump their heads hard on this barrier to moving beyond a certain point.

Most companies won’t blatantly declare they do not want women at the top. Many are unaware of their bigotry, which makes it even more difficult to tackle this problem. Something open and stated upfront (like the Penny Sparrow tweet) is easy to deal with, but subtle indirect policies and practices are harder to erode.

Even more disconcerting is that it is often senior women, whose hard-fought path to the top has embittered them, who create the biggest barrier to other junior women moving up in the business.

Breaking down the glass ceiling starts with us women. Slowly chipping away at the glass, never accepting being put down, always putting ourselves forward. Never under-estimate the value of some good old self-promotion, which many men seem to do so well. We must believe in our ability to make it to the top, and stay there. This goes a long way to changing perceptions of ourselves as the “lesser species”.

We are sometimes our own worst enemies. If we role-play the submissive, ever-helpful, lesser roles, we will be kept at this level because we are so good at it.

For instance, I deliberately never learnt how to type as a young lawyer. I knew that if I did, I would be relegated to the typing pool with the rest of the women, on top of my duties as a candidate attorney. This was the message I sent about how serious I was about my job and what I wanted to achieve! I have subsequently rectified this and can type…!

Put your hand up for leadership initiatives. Don’t stand back when challenging tasks are being dished out. Take the lead whenever you can. Many women have collaborative and team-working skills and sometimes are better coaches and mentors for younger people – all of these skills display leadership.

If we play to our strengths and never take no for an answer, believe in ourselves and grab each opportunity to show-case that we can be leaders, it will go a long way to make others sit up and take notice, and start treating us as the capable leaders we really are.


Christmas Quarrels and Conflict ManagementMarleen Potgieter is a labour lawyer. She is the author of Social Media and Employment Law and co-author of Unfair Discrimination in the Workplace.

Follow her on Twitter (@MarleenRing) and Facebook, or visit her website, Equity Works.