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How to get rid of the glass ceiling

Women do want to break through the glass ceiling and sit on company boards and lead corporations. But to achieve this, more active support from senior executives and guidance for younger women in the work force is needed, writes Janine Garner, a successful entrepreneur and author of the new book From ME to WE. A second piece of advice comes from executive coach Angela Heise who wants women to go against convention as well as network and work together.

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Picture: Janine Garner

Janine Garner, CEO of LBDGroup, a community of successful and results oriented business women and entrepreneurs

We are seeing an unprecedented desire at present to get rid of the dreaded glass ceiling. Realistically though, the numbers of women on boards and in senior executive roles are not drastically increasing, and nor should they unless they are based on merit rather than just a quota system, as this takes away any true meaning from the phrase ‘equality in the workplace’.

The question is, how are we going to see women move into these roles? It cannot just be a matter of talking the talk. There seems to be a persistent belief that committee-based ‘think tanks’ will see a magic solution appear out of nowhere.

What we need is active collaboration in the form of sponsorship. Currently, younger women in the workplace are not receiving the guidance they need from those in positions of seniority that will give them the tools necessary to take a corporation or major business area further down a success path. And because those above them are currently in the majority male – the sponsorship needs to come not just from women in positions of leadership, but from men of worth as well. This is where the system is falling down.

Like is, in the main, sponsoring like. This means that ‘minority’ groups – and women still count as this – are not receiving the best advice, strategies, and assistance in how to navigate their way into senior positions that they could be. Women within senior positions are also not active enough in sponsoring down the ranks and generation gaps. The culture of alienation between Baby Boomers, Gen X, Gen Y and the emerging Gen Z is still going strong. 

If we as women of worth are truly going to be able to embrace the opportunity of senior leadership, it is going to come down to actively seeking out those below us in terms of their age and position and nurturing their strengths – because they will be the ones to bring equality to the boardroom. 

About Janine Garner: 

Janine Garner is a business woman, entrepreneur and socialpreneur. She is the founder and CEO of LBDGroup (the Little Black Dress Group), a community of successful and results oriented business women and entrepreneurs in Australia. Before starting her own business Garner worked in corporate marketing for brands like Ralph Lauren, Oroton, Jaeger, Sainsbury’s Homebase and Citizen Watches. Her first book From ME to WE about effective collaboration was launched with Wiley in 2014.

Angela Heise, executive coach who works with female as well as male executives across the globe

Live your life, fulfil your needs, stand up and be counted. Ignore advice such as that provided by Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella’s who suggests that women should wait for promotion and rely on karma. Instead, proactively map out your career path, find mentors, acquire the skills outside of work, such as getting an MBA and build a solid track record. 

Promote yourself, be seen without over-promoting yourself. Then present yourself as a candidate with willingness to listen to feedback, while standing strong for your values and the embedding of your work within the rest of your life. Willingness to show up constructively, with a creative solution focus and ability to operate both within a team and as well as heading a team, works well for any job progression. 

Inform yourself about pay rates and ask for what you are worth. Gender biased pay is still the norm in many places.

Negotiate with your partner - discuss who gets to take time to priorities their career and take turns in supporting the other in pursuing professional goals and taking care of family and household. The average person has between 15 to 20 jobs and changes careers six times in their lifetime, so the corporate ladder is not limited to leaning against a single wall anymore.

Go against convention - if you can't find the job that suits you, create it. The world needs entrepreneurs, who think outside the box, intelligent risk takers who question everything. Who know how to think, not what to think. We need women, aware of ego traps, who consider the bigger picture, who don't have to prove their alpha.

Network – men do it far more effectively than women. While we are really good at supporting each other as friends, we have yet to learn how to build strong business networks. The good old boys networks have much to teach, good stuff as well as bad. It's great to have mates, but it makes no sense to put mateship above integrity, ecology and excellence. When you network to support power, profit and ego, the consequences can literally be lethal. Today, women's idea of legacy is often different. Yes, it is based on financial success, because, let's face it, making sure you have a roof over your and your childrens’ heads is everyone's priority, it is not about accumulating riches for riches sake. Enlightened women and, of course, men include education, personal growth and ways to achieve work-life integration in the businesses and cultures they create.

Women need to support women. We don’t live in caveman times anymore, where women needed to associate with the strongest males in order to ensure their survival, while sabotaging the other males through undermining their females within the community. As a broad generalisation men have each other’s backs, women often undermine each other. I have facilitated meetings with men who aggressively defended their position and then cheerfully went out for a beer together. Women are not as willing to separate their professional gripes from the personal relationships, or judge women on not being able to be brilliant mothers and business leaders. The concept of the “raven mother”, a bad mother and a woman who works, is unfortunately still prevalent, even if it just in the minds of women, who cannot shake a permeating sense of guilt, of never being good enough. 

Take risks, forgo convention. If they call you a bitch, laugh. Remember, if a man is determined and decisive, he is powerful. 

Turn your maternal instincts for nurturing into strategy. Avoid playing mum. 

Empower the people around you to become leaders. Mentor others.

Own your femininity. That doesn't mean cleavage or high heels. It means that you stay true to yourself and to whatever model of femininity you have. If you don't like suits, don't wear them. 

If you want to move a meeting, move it. Instead of turning yourself into a pretzel, negotiate. There is far more acceptance out there for what you want once you stop asking for permission. 

It's far easier to alienate people as a woman than it is as a man because a man can get away with behaviours that are unacceptable for a woman: a strong-worded, loudly voiced statement is perceived as powerful coming from a man, and as hysterical or bitchy coming from a women.

Create some publicity for yourself by showing up, and expressing who you are. Be authentic and own your flaws - just avoid supporting people to enable them. 

Remember, if you want to fit the mould that others shape for you, you are a follower, not a leader. 

About Angela Heise:

Angela Heise is an executive coach, corporate trainer and facilitator with an international portfolio of clients spanning a diverse range of industries. She is the developer of a Performance Excellence programme which has helped many people deal effectively with stage fright. Her Global Village Skills programme supports people who live in culturally diverse and fast changing environments and her Balcony Success Clubs programme enables people to build constructive and  emotionally intelligent work cultures. 

More articles about the topic:

Female leaders: Twice the patience, twice the chutzpa, twice the stamina

The diversity benchmark: gender equality

Business schools change their way for female MBA students

Applying to business school: What’s the right approach for women?

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