Opt In: Getting Beyond the Glass Ceiling

LM headshot 2011Contributed by Lynne Morton, President, Performance Improvement Solutions

We increasingly see statistics about where women are in the workforce: more of us, locally and globally, in graduate schools and in organizations, yet not earning enough and not senior enough. The organizations that generate that data are doing terrific work making the progress (or the lack thereof) clear and present.

Equally clear and present, though, is a danger on the horizon. If, as The Economist has said, “women’s economic empowerment is arguably the biggest social change of our times,” then the time has come for us to seize the momentum of that change and make it powerful, meaningful, and lasting. When trying to engender change, a motivating phrase used to be “Carpe Diem,” or seize the day. Today, a more appropriate phrase seems to be “Opt In.”

We can “Opt In” by knowing more about the power we already have in society and using that power in our professional lives. We can “Opt In” by becoming more aware of what is constraining us and preventing that from controlling us. We can “Opt In” by taking more actions that move our professional goals forward step by step. Sometimes it may just be easier to Opt Out. But the only way that change will really happen is by each of us, one person at a time, Opting In in three ways and then joining hands.

1. Get Smarter. Women bring in more than 50% of household income in more than 50% of households. Women control more than 50% of the private wealth in the U.S. and make closer to 70% of consumer purchasing decisions. Women represent nearly 50% of the U.S. workforce, with the Department of Labor predicting that to reach nearly 2/3s of the workforce by 2015.

Learn about how you can wield that economic power in your organization: by connecting with more customers, by developing more products that resonate with the women making purchasing decisions, by developing new ideas or solutions that appeal to a more diverse population. The business case is where the money is. Touching the business case is where the growth and advancement will come.

2. Get More Aware/Self-Aware. The Glass Ceiling does exist in many organizations. The most recent Catalyst Pyramid shows it: women represent 48% of the U.S. labor force, yet are just 8% of Fortune 500 company top earners and 2% of Fortune 500 CEOs. That’s the reality of large corporations. But is it the reality in your organization? Or need it be the reality in the organization you are building, if you are an entrepreneur? There may be certain functional areas where women are advancing or growing more rapidly than others. Have you explored those? There may be certain senior executives who are actively supporting or sponsoring women for future leadership roles. Have you spoken to them? There may be learning opportunities within your organization that are available to you now. Have you asked to participate?

If a Glass Ceiling exists, it is still transparent. You can see it and through it. You can break it with a glass hammer. It can constrain you or not. In any case, it is static, so you have to let it “do” to you what you allow it to do. You can fight it until you get so tired that you Opt Out. But then you give up some of your aspirations and don’t achieve your full potential, which is a waste, for you and for your organization. Or you can recognize it and look through it… not see it as a factor that will definitely limit the achievement of your potential… just see it as another hurdle to overcome.

The glass ceiling is a form of a limiting belief, something that causes you to stop trying because you believe that success isn’t possible. Limiting beliefs come from a combination of evidence and assumption. In a societal way there is evidence; in a specific or personal way, though, there may or may not be evidence. In our experience, we’ve encountered many professional women who don’t feel that a glass ceiling is inhibiting them. Brava! They are not taking the general and making it personal. They are seeing discrete behaviors that are presenting problems for them, but they also see those as problems that can be addressed. And they are addressing them.

We all have limiting beliefs. If the glass ceiling isn’t yours, then something else is. Do you know what is holding you back? Do you know when you are taking general information and making it specific, as a way to avoid or stop taking action? If you are really “Opting In” you are also becoming more self-aware. Then you are ready to take action.

3. Get Moving. Take a small step. Take a comfortable step. If a “hook” like International Women’s Day is way to help you decide to think through or speak up for what is most important to you professionally use it. Then keep going.

We believe that women can create powerful organizational and society impacts by generating Fusion-like energy, coming from the inside out – when they Opt In. The first step in generating Fusion energy is to forget about the Glass Ceiling. Don’t ignore it, don’t avoid it, but don’t let it stop you.

Lynne Morton is a globally recognized leadership coach and management consultant based in NY. A widely published author and frequent public speaker, she heads the firm Performance Improvement Solutions, which specializes in the FUSIONCoaching™ for Women Process.

Guest articles do not represent the views of The Glass Hammer Team.