Having made some strides, women of the 21st century still face many hurdles on the path to equal standing with men in the professional arena. Moran, Harris, and Moran define the “glass ceiling” as, “…barriers to reaching the upper echelons of organizations” (2011, p. 141). These barriers, while having changed over the years, are still present. New research by the Pew Research Center reveals that the barriers women face are no longer focused primarily on work-life balance or motherhood, they are more focused on a double standard and unpreparedness for women to be in top leadership positions (2015). The study also highlights findings about gender discrimination and gender stereotypes that are still present in the 21st century (Pew Research Center, 2015). Moran, Harris, and Moran point out that this discrimination and stereotyping can lead to less challenging positions for women, a continued pay gap, corporate cultures tailored to men-only participation, limited access for women to information and connections, fewer women in training and “fast-track” programs, and more women in safe versus risky positions (2011).
I’ve seen TED talks with Sheryl Sandberg before, but I went back to re-view her talk on “Why we have too few women leaders” (TED, 2010). She gives three messages to women who want to stay in the work force (TED, 2010). The first message she gives is to “sit at the table” (TED, 2010). Sandberg goes on to tell stories on how women tend to underestimate their abilities and achievements. Essentially, she points out that women versus men support themselves less. In other words, women are less likely to be their own cheerleader.
Sandberg’s “sit at the table” advice got me to reflect on when I served as the Executive Assistant to the Command Chief (who is the highest enlisted individual on base). In the weekly staff meetings, which took place in the Wing Commander’s office, my chair was often on the side of the room, next to the big conference table. I generally just took down notes and gave responses if they were asked of me (which was rare). After I was settled into the position, I was part of a team put together to organize a big DV (distinguished visitor) event. The Commander called a meeting of the minds in the main conference room and asked that we all sit at the table. Looking back, I can see a real change in my mentality from sitting at the side of the room versus sitting at the table. I felt engaged at the table, and I felt like my input was encouraged, accepted, and valid. As Sandberg proclaims, “No one gets to the corner office by sitting on the side, not at the table” (TED, 2010). Thus, an important part of closing the gaps that exist between men and women in the workplace is for women to jump in and be heard.
Both the Pew Research and the Sandberg talk reveal that women and men, given the same qualifications, are seen as equally competent (Pew Research Center, 2015 & TED, 2010). Yet there are still stereotypes and tendencies that leave women scrounging to keep up with men to hold top leadership roles. Moran, Harris, and Moran suggest benevolent sexism and hostile sexism as possible sources of this struggle for women (2011). In essence, benevolent sexism is the mentality that women need to be coddled to some extent, while hostile sexism places women below men (Moran, Harris, & Moran, 2011). Moran et al. and Sandberg discuss ways in which women can overcome the obstacles, mentalities, and stereotypes that threaten to hold them back (2011 & TED, 2010). Moran et al. suggest boosting self-confidence, overcoming challenging situations, having a different voice, and having a unique leadership style (2011). It’s important to consider the challenges women face in leadership in order to see positive change. It seems women leaders face a more mental battle than one that is based on capability or skill set. It may not be so easy to change the mindset of the masses, but women can start by making changes individually by means of changing how they think and approach leadership. By “sitting at the table” (TED, 2010) women can advance within their company or office, which will further benefit women on a global scale as they serve in more global leadership positions. They can break through the glass ceiling in-house and throughout other cultures via global expansion.
Moran, R. T., Harris, P. R., & Moran, S. V. (2011). Chapter 5: Transcending culture: Women leaders in global business. Managing cultural differences: Global leadership strategies for cross-cultural business success (8th ed.) (p. 127-155). Oxford, UK: Elsevier Inc.
Pew Research Center (2015, Jan. 14). Women and leadership: Public says women are equally qualified, but barriers persist. Retrieved from http://www.pewsocialtrends.org/2015/01/14/women-and-leadership/
TED [Screen name]. (2010, Dec. 21). Sheryl Sandberg: Why we have too few women leaders [Video file]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=18uDutylDa4