It used to be that the “glass ceiling” was a reference to the lack of females holding executive level or board member roles within an organization. Females included in these meetings were usually taking notes – or worse – bringing in lunch!
Fortunately, times have changed and there are more women in executive roles. Unfortunately, there is still a glass ceiling and who is having a hard time breaking through it includes more than female workers. Diverse and minority workers still face the biggest climb up the career ladder as well as experience the biggest drop off – aka the “glass cliff” during tough times.
Who is affected by the glass ceiling and glass cliff barriers to advancing in the workplace?
Much of the focus on breaking through career barriers has been on females, yet there are many other groups who are challenged to move up the career ladder and into executive roles including those who:
- Are a minority due to their ethnicity, skin color, or nationality
- Affiliate with a gender orientation other than heterosexual
- Speak a language or have an accent other than American English
- Are older or just look older due to the color of their hair or their wardrobe
- Are a single parent – particularly female and minority single parents
- Have a disability
- Lack social capital
Possessing more than one of these traits can be, for some, a career killer! In addition, it can have a negative impact on an individual’s health including their immune, digestive, and cardiovascular systems. Taken as a whole, the number of barriers preventing someone from reaching the executive suite means the majority face a ladder that may never reach the top floor, and if they do, will live in fear of looming demotions or choose to resign due to toxic working conditions.
From reaction to action to traction
Good intentions and diversity and inclusivity policies make for great sound bytes and warm fuzzies, but they alone won’t shore up executive parity. Such efforts are often isolated and removed from the full spectrum of decisions and dynamics required to make progress and institute permanent change.
In addition to HR’s role in developing prerequisites for consideration of executive and c-suite roles (re necessary skills, education, experience, and performance) and upholding hiring expectations, promotional practices, diversity and inclusion policies, and so on), the CEO and the entire executive staff are, ultimately, responsible for closing the gaps.
Thanks to a growing awareness of the importance of diversity and inclusion in companies, along with some clear guidance, achieving parity is possible. Following are ideas, insights, and inspiration on organizations focused on successfully removing the glass ceiling and eliminating the glass cliff – for all of us!
We leave you with the words of Matshona Dhliwayo:
“Don’t aim to break the glass ceiling; aim to shatter it.”