Is the glass ceiling a myth?

by | Sep 20, 2012 | News

Nicky Little from Cirrus writes for People Management

Dragons’ Den star Hilary Devey has spoken out against the idea of a glass ceiling, claiming it is a “myth” and an “excuse” for women’s own failings in the business world. I sometimes wonder if talking about glass ceilings can detract from the wider issue of culture and values within organisations.

A recent survey by Ernst & Young also questions the idea of a glass ceiling. However, this survey doesn’t claim it’s a “myth”. It actually found that two-thirds of working women in the UK believe they face multiple barriers throughout their careers, rather than just a single ceiling to boardroom entry.

The study identified four key barriers to career progression for today’s working women – age, lack of role models, motherhood and qualifications and experience.

Hilary Devey could certainly be considered a good role model. She is worth £50 million, runs a business with a £100 million turnover, and says she is “living proof” women can rise to the top in the workplace. The challenges of juggling motherhood with working life are widely recognised, and Devey has conceded that women “still have to sacrifice more than their male counterparts”.

Qualifications and experience, the other barriers identified in the Ernst & Young survey, can apply to anyone. The more organisations can do help all employees gain more of both, the more individuals and organisations wil benefit.

Barriers exist, and they’re a problem. They’re also part of the much wider issue of culture and values in the workplace. Hilary Devey’s advice for women to “stop complaining about our biological differences and get down to work” may well work for some. However in my experience women, like everyone else, benefit from a supportive working environment with a high degree of trust and respect, where individual contributions are valued.

Many organisations strive for cultures of openness, honesty and support. Employees inside organisations as well as others on the outside are demanding more of big business leaders. People want leaders who live by their values and who can get the most out of a diverse workforce. Employees are demanding more flexible and supportive workplaces, and more and more leaders are providing them. Responding to the needs of employees – whether it’s a need to balance work and family, to balance work and study, or whatever – not only ensures equality in the workplace, it also helps boost employee engagement, motivation and morale, and makes good business sense.

If a business does not have a positive culture, or doesn’t offer a supportive environment, more and more people are asking why not. Employees, customers and other stakeholders are becoming increasingly discerning. Even in a tough economic climate, we want a successful working life that provides meaning as well as money. Most of us, whether male or female, want to get rid of barriers to career success – and most of us want leaders who will stand up and help us do it.

Please click here to see Nicky’s article on the People Management website.

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