Breaking the Glass ceiling

Breaking the Glass Ceiling

It’s frustrating, upsetting and downright unjust if there really is an unspoken limit imposed upon your ambitions. If you don’t want to put up with it, what are your options?

Know the key competencies valued by your company and industry

If you want to climb higher, be very clear about the key competencies, skills and attributes you need to progress further. Ask yourself:

 What behaviours are valued and rewarded within your company or industry?

 What type of person is promoted within your team?

 What sets your company and its leaders apart?

 Where do your competencies align with the company mission, culture and values?

How do you currently display those attributes?

Set objectives to align your competencies with those at the top

If promotion is not being handed to you on a plate, be proactive and go after what you want. Set clear goals for yourself and build the competencies required to get to the next level. You could:

 Let your boss know how you would like to progress

 Ask for their support and advice on the specific skills you need to develop

 Work with them to set goals and objectives – be sure to review and measure your progress

Try to focus on those goals that are most do-able for you first so that you can gather confidence from your successes. One step at a time, acknowledge and seek acknowledgements of your efforts, climbing can be hard work.

Build your network

As a matter of course you need to stay visible. Try to build relationships with other people in your organization. Support others and they are more likely to support you. At whatever level, you can offer each other valuable information and practical or moral backing. Try to:

 Reach out to new people regularly formally and informally

 Get involved with colleagues in other teams

 Actively build your external networks

At the very least, if you are unable to break the glass ceiling within your current role, you will be laying the foundations for success elsewhere.

Build your reputation

If your goal is to be perceived as someone with the potential to be a future manager or leader and a safe pair of hands, make sure that others know of your capabilities. Let your potential be obvious.

In any case, as much as strong communication skills, technical knowledge and experience are valued, great leaders are usually strategic thinkers. They are able to inspire others with their vision of the future, able to pre-empt as well as find solutions – how can you display these sorts of qualities too? You could:

  Identify your aspirations for yourself 

 Think about where your reputation serves you best – and where it may not 

 Be clear about what you need to do to change the way you may be perceived

Stay visible - speak up and contribute in meetings

Be strategic in sharing your ideas with peers and those in higher positions

Put your proposals or insights in writing where necessary 

Seek high-profile projects

Know your rights

Clearly, when discrimination occurs it is unfortunate for all parties - for both you and for the reputation of your organisation. It is also a sensitive issue.  It can be that those involved may not be aware of how their behaviours affect your right to be taken seriously where your work is of equal merit.  Acting upon unconscious bias is also illegal.

To be taken seriously, you need to take yourself seriously which means knowing your rights. It also means not putting up with frustration and failure. Inform yourself of company policies and the law so that you know where you stand.

If you feel that you are the victim of discriminatory behaviour, at some point you do need to find ways to explain the effect upon your morale and your career. Undoubtedly, it takes courage to speak up and have difficult conversations. On the other hand, if you don’t things are unlikely to change.

While you may prefer to give the person the benefit of the doubt in the first place, if you are an ambitious person there is no logic to accepting frustration and failure in the long run. As much as you may feel angry and hurt about what is going on, our advice is to try to find a win-win resolution where this possible. Letting go of the emotions involved and presenting the facts objectively also stands your reputation in good stead.

In the short term, seek help where you need to, don’t suffer in silence – and be political. Being assertive means alerting people to your view of the situation whilst also finding ways for them to come out of the situation with their dignity in tact too. As a tactic, giving people the benefit of the doubt may also be a useful first step. 


To summarise, to break the glass ceiling you need to be your own best champion, to take yourself seriously and manage your career and future possibilities on your own terms.

Be clear about what is expected to do well in the company and show where you are a great fit. Seek the right support where you need to, find yourself a mentor and involve your manager where you can.  Create strong professional networks formally and informally so that your hammer is the last resort to smashing that ceiling!

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