As I sit here in my office looking out on a rainy grey Sunday morning it keeps going through my mind what really is this glass ceiling everyone is obsessed about? Is it the same for everyone? Does it have an exam to prove you have passed it? What are the criteria for shattering it? Who really is affected by it?
The dictionary definition is: an upper limit to professional advancement, especially as imposed upon women, that is not readily perceived or openly acknowledged.
I think this prejudice is also applied regarding age and minorities… So women, age, minorities… But is it the same barrier for everyone? Does everyone have to do the same thing to ‘get there’.
Think of my favourite actresses, Judi Dench, 81, Maggie Smith who will be 81 at the end of the month and Helen Mirren a spring chicken at a mere 70! No one can deny they are women, and they are what is considered to be ‘old’. They are also highly successful, they are still active, still much in demand. They have definitely broken through the glass ceiling, and then some. What has made them succeed when other talented actresses of their age group have just dropped off the face of the earth?
Think of women in high level public office: Christine LaGarde (59), Angela Merkel (61), Hillary Clinton (68), Dilma Rousseff (67), Julia Gillard (54).
Think of top business women: Sheryl Sandberg (46), Indra Nooyi (60), Ursula Burns (57), Maria das Gracas Silva Foster (62) and Marisa Mayer, a baby at only 40 years old.
What are the common characteristics that spring to mind – focus, determination, extremely good at their job and passion! They all love what they do. Their passion for their work, and their life, just oozes out of them. They know what they want, and they direct their focus and energy on achieving it. They don’t wait for someone to come and offer it to them. They get off their butts, go out there and work for it. They don’t accept ‘no’ for an answer. If one door closes in their face, they go right on and force another one open instead… Can you imagine any of them doing what they don’t like? In fact, can you imagine them expecting to work ‘normal’ hours or do anything mundane? Of course not!
If you really want to break that glass ceiling – and yes, it is possible – you need to do a real in depth, honest and objective analysis of what it really means to you and for you.
First step – know yourself, your character, your strengths, your weaknesses, where you give up, where you dig deep and fight for more. What makes your energy flow, what keeps you going, where do you come alive and want to do still more even after a long day of problems, hassle and aggravation? Also know the situations and subjects that do just the opposite.
Next – know what you want. What do you want to achieve, where do you want to go, how do you want to get there? You can’t be haphazard; you have to have laser focus on these. Yes, you may have to divert on the way, that is normal, it’s life but you need to know deep down in your bones exactly what you are aiming for. How you get there is just a pleasurable road of discovery and exploration.
Finally – compromise and concede. What are you prepared to compromise on, what will you concede? Don’t live in la-la land. Don’t be under the illusion that good things happen to those who wait or that you will have perfect work life balance… As Sherly Sandberg famously said “there’s no such thing as work–life balance. There’s work, and there’s life, and there’s no balance”. There are however practical ways to improve the juggling – but more of that in another article… You need to have clear in your head what you will compromise on and what you will concede, in all aspects of your life.
Get your ideas crystal clear and then start plotting the route!
Do what you love and love what you do!
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Anna Letitia Cook is Founder and CEO of WomenUP Ltd and creator of the process SCOPE for career, fulfilment and success. She has a passion for inspiring women to shape their own future, incorporating their own values, beliefs and sense of purpose to achieve their objectives.