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Have You Hit Your Glass Ceiling?

By Thomas Scott

The glass ceiling metaphor has become a well-known phrase since Marilyn Loden first coined it during a speech she gave at the 1978 Women's Exposition in New York. It continues to subtly serve as a boundary for many. What does it actually mean, and who does it affect?

What Is a Glass Ceiling?

Simply put, the term glass ceiling refers to an invisible barrier used to keep individuals from rising to higher levels of management within the business or corporate hierarchy. But what does that actually look like for you?

It has historically been used to reference tactics that upper management and business owners utilize to prevent women and minorities from advancing to positions for which they are highly qualified. But a glass ceiling can restrict anyone. 

Glass Ceiling Example

Cheryl L. Green, president of a business consulting firm addressed this issue during her interview with the Chicago Tribune. She maintains that "if you report to a top executive, he has to be directly involved and give honest feedback" so that you're able to qualify for the move up.

Green uses her own experience as an example of the glass ceiling she encountered as an African-American female early in her career. She was "in line for a major promotion." But when she received her performance review, Green's boss told her that she didn't have enough education to be vice president.

Green's boss suggested that she might have more opportunities if she went back to college. However, he was well aware that she had a Ph.D. in psychology as well as an "MBA from a top school with a concentration in marketing, organization behavior, and management policy."

It was her boss's way of telling Green that there was no career growth left for her in the organization. She continued to work for that company, knowing that "many of the top executives didn't have those degrees." From there, another company hired Green as a top executive. She eventually branched out to start her own consulting company. 

Signs You've Reached Your Glass Ceiling

Professionals who find their work challenging and are able to realize career advancement within their organization may remain loyal to the company, and for good reason. Keeping the lines of communication open with your supervisors is an excellent way to stay on your chosen career path.

However, a problem arises when there is no career development path for loyal, mid-level employees. Here are some signs that you've bumped up against a glass ceiling and may need to explore a new career path.

1. Unrecognized & Unrewarded

Sometimes, a professional can spend too much time trying to prove themselves to an unappreciative boss. A person with a strong work ethic puts in the extra effort needed to get the job done. Continually going above and beyond without any recognition is physically exhausting. And it can really take its toll on your emotional health as well.

If you feel like you work hard without receiving any recognition, try having an open and honest conversation with your boss. If things still don't show signs of change, then it might be time to find a new position.

2. No Vacancy

In many companies, upper management have maintained their roles for a long time. But what happens if the next logical career goal for you is an upper management role? Are you supposed to wait until someone retires?

If this is the case, you may need to look elsewhere within the company for another chance to advance. Or it could be time to look for career options with a different employer.

3. Nepotism

There may be plenty of room for advancement so long as you share a common last name. Unfortunately, this can be the case in both large and small businesses. Sometimes the promotions just go to people with the right last name.

It's frustrating and deflating to watch a position that you are well qualified for be handed to a family member on a silver platter. This could cause you to harbor resentment and begin a trajectory of quiet quitting. Perhaps it's best to break the glass ceiling and go elsewhere.

4. The Last Stop

You may have reached the highest level your company has to offer. If you're at the top and there will be no more promotions, you might want to consider expanding your skills with another organization. If, on the other hand, your company is growing, you could find new opportunities ahead by staying with them.

What to Do If You've Hit Your Glass Ceiling

If you have hit your glass ceiling at your current job, you may want to look at other options. One solution is to venture out in a new direction. Margaret Manning, the founder of Sixtyandme.com, says it best, "It may be time to forget the glass ceiling and build your own house."

While you can certainly look for other job opportunities with established companies, you may find that your situation doesn't change much. Instead, you can create your business and take control of your working life. As an entrepreneur, there is no limit to what you can accomplish. 

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Tags: Personal Growth