Why are professional women
still hitting a glass ceiling?
Lately I keep finding myself in conversations about how a surprising number of women aren’t moving confidently into leadership within their careers. I’ve heard some worries from my executive coaching clients, but often the topic has come up at social or business events.
For me it’s a puzzle: why is it that so many terrific professional women are still struggling with issues we thought we’d be able to put to rest back in the 80s and 90s?
This doesn’t seem to be just an us-against-them, women-versus-men thing. I’ve heard insightful men express concern that too few women are reaching their full professional potential. For example, two male professors recently asked me why their star female students seem to have lower job aspirations than their less qualified male classmates?
And in recent months, both at formal industry conferences and in casual chats, some of the most accomplished American women journalists have been talking about how leading newsrooms still seem to be dominated by a male culture. This seems to be the case, in both print and digital realms, despite the fact university journalism programs often have more women than men students.
Also, disturbingly, young women in several career discussions this spring told me they feel more threatened than supported by women who are senior to them in their organizational hierarchies. They look to men and generational peers, they said, want they want mentoring.
Part of the problem may relate back to those of us who were among the early women to enter many professions. I was the first woman in Ohio University’s MBA program in the 1970s. And later I joined the first big wave of women who went to Georgetown Law School, and then on to Washington law firms. It was wonderful and exciting, but sometimes it was frightening as well. And the experience left scars.
Even where there was no hazing or explicit double standard, it could be exhausting and bewildering to join male teams where we weren’t really wanted. As a result, despite years of achievement, some “old girls” still experience surprising lapses in confidence. It can show up in little ways, such as: Read more