U01: Breaking Today’s Glass Ceiling

The famous author and poet Maya Angelou once said, “How important it is for us to recognize and celebrate our heroes and she-roes!” Since I can remember, I have done just as Maya suggested – I have celebrated and learned from my hero, my mother. She has been my inspiration and mentor throughout my life, and I would not be the man I am today without her. But today’s women face a unique struggle in the workforce – the glass ceiling. When I say “glass ceiling,” I am referring to an unacknowledged barrier to advancement in a profession, especially affecting women and members of minorities (“Glass Ceiling,” n.d.). In short, society has told women that they cannot excel in the workforce because they are women. But, as we all know, women hold some of today’s highest leadership positions in various companies, to include the military. Using leadership styles, such as the path-goal theory, women like my mother have proven that they belong in leadership roles because they bring a unique flair to the military, unmatched by their male counterparts.

 

Her Struggles

My mom has been an amazing role model for me and other women in the Army Reserves, but she has also faced many challenges. Those challenges started when she was a cadet in Army ROTC at the University of Missouri and continued on into her civilian job at BAE Systems. As a cadet, her male peers didn’t think she could hold herself in the “man’s world” of the military. In her civilian job, her small-minded, jealous co-workers thought she would struggle with the whole work-home conflict after becoming a single parent. They expected her to limit her time and progress at work in order to take care of the duties and children at home (Dobbs, 2016b). In the Army Reserves, there was no room for gender intolerance, but she still had to prove herself as a competent leader in front of her soldiers. She had to learn to speak the lingo and act like “one of the boys” without actually being “one of the boys.”

 

Her Successes

Even though my mother faced these challenges, she applied herself mentally and physically in every aspect of her life and never listened to the criticisms she received. Because of this attitude, she graduated in the top-third of her cadet class in college and continued to be promoted above her peers in the civilian sector. She also took the approach of being humble, credible, and approachable in her workplace.

I remember one time my mom, as a young lieutenant, was out in the field with her soldiers for overnight training. She slept in tents like her troops, she carried ruck sacks like them, and even ate the food they ate in the woods. She did this knowing that officers were afforded the opportunity to stay in hotel rooms overnight, if they wished. Her male officer peers chose to do so, but she didn’t. In fact, the next morning, she was helping load the truck with her fellow soldiers, and one of the sergeants came up to her and told her he really appreciated her efforts and admired the example she was setting to her soldiers with her positive attitude, but the labor work she was doing was meant to be done by the enlisted force. She earned so much credibility that day because she showed her troops she was one of them and would not let her gender or rank affect her interactions with them as their leader. She was tough, but not macho. She would take on the responsibility as their leader but also follow others’ advice (Hughes, Ginnett, & Curphy, 2012).

 

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(image from http://www.iup.edu/news-item.aspx?id=190233)

 

Thirty-two years later and my mother recently retired from the Army Reserves to take up a GS position at Ft Bragg, North Carolina. Once again, she is in a career field filled with men, and she is one of the only women in a high-ranking position. This time around, though, she is well versed on the culture shift for women in leadership positions, and she is eager to lead her new team. She has already set goals for her team of twenty-five people. She took over for a gentleman who was unsuccessful in motivating his team to get much work accomplished in his department. Because my mom has logistical expertise from the Army Reserves, they hired her to replace him, and like the path-goal theory suggests, my mom has supported her team emotionally and with a new rewards system (extra days off from work) in order to facilitate their motivation towards goal accomplishment (Dobbs, 2016a). The challenge that her department had previously was that the old boss was too directive in his leadership style and not supportive enough of his people; thus, the motivation was killed in the office, and folks were frustrated with him. My mom, with her skillset, is used to getting to know her people on a personal level and how they operate individually and as a team. Therefore, she has had greater success improving the overall work environment for them.

 

Final Thoughts

Leadership is defined by Peter Northouse (2016) as “a process whereby an individual influences a group of individuals to achieve a common goal” (p. 3). Nowhere in this definition does it say that the leader must be a male. It’s true, whether it’s on the front lines or in the civilian sector of the military, women’s leadership roles are on the rise. Women bring a lot to leadership roles that men overlook, such as a creative perspective, feminine insight, and a simplified way of thinking. Women prefer input participation from their subordinates so that they know how to balance the needs of their team with the needs of their business. They set goals for their team based on these inputs, and emotionally, are able to support them better than men – something I compare to a mother’s instinct. I think you can then say that women are, in fact, better leaders than men in certain capacities. Society tells women to be emotionally and physically strong like a man in order for their male comrades to respect them; however, if they’re too macho, they lose respect. It also dictates that they dress in a feminine style, but if it’s too feminine, guys can’t take them seriously. It seems like women just can’t win. My mom would argue that, as a woman, all you need is hard work, determination, your own leadership style, and a handful of bobby pins to be successful.

 

For more information on the growing leadership roles of women in the military, you can read the article listed here: http://www.military.com/veteran-jobs/career-advice/on-the-job/how-to-encourage-women-to-go-after-more-leadership-roles.html.

 

 

References

 

Dobbs, J. (2016a). Unit 2, Lesson 7-P2: Path-Goal Theory [Canvas].

Retrieved September 17, 2016, from https://psu.instructure.com/courses/1802199/

pages/l07-p2-leadership-behaviors?module_item_id=21376110

 

Dobbs, J. (2016b). Unit 4, Lesson 13: Diversity and Leadership [Canvas].

Retrieved September 17, 2016, from https://psu.instructure.com/courses/1802199/

pages/l13-barriers-for-women?module_item_id=21376214

 

Glass Ceiling. (n.d.). In Merriam-Webster’s online dictionary. Retrieved September 20,

2016, from http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/glass%20ceiling

 

Hughes, R. L., Ginnett, R. C., & Curphy, G. J. (2012). Leadership: Enhancing the lessons

of experience. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill Companies.

 

Northouse, P. G. (2016). Leadership, Theory and Practice (Seventh ed.).

Los Angeles, CA: Sage.

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