How to Break it to the Top

Imagine this scene; you glance at the clock and realize that it is past closing time. You continue clearing your desk and scheduling for tomorrow. Your mobile rings again and you wonder if it is your mother calling again to remind you about the family meeting this weekend. However, this time, it is your son calling you about his homework; the research on ‘Tiera Del Fuego.’ You are therefore expected home soon to help him.  After this call, you remember that you need to pick up some groceries before the shops close. You say a silent prayer that for once the traffic on the Spintex Road will move. With all these going through your mind, you realize that it is getting quite late, and just as you pick up your bag to leave, your boss strolls in to discuss an issue you brought to his attention in the morning. 

What goes through your mind? 

“Why did he wait till long after closing to bring up this issue?” “Doesn’t he know that we, women, are managers somewhere else?” Apart from the managerial duties at work, we have to manage the home, children, their ‘Tierra Del Fuego’ (homework), extra lessons, cooking, etc. 

As women, we have a whole world out there crying for our attention and time. In the case of male employees, it is quite different: If we switch places between the male and female manager in the above scene, it will play differently… As the male boss walks into his office, the male employee is more likely to have extended discussions and even continue over drinks at a bar. 

It is a jungle out there – Corporate world 

Organisations are mostly run by men; men are goal-oriented and competitive. They live and breathe politics and keep moving ahead without a lot of interruptions to ‘increase the world’s population.’ 

The challenge for women therefore is to figure out how to manoeuvre and best use our skills as females in this competitive environment. If we fail to consider and understand the office politics and socialize after work hours, we put ourselves at a disadvantage. It is not that we are not suited for the executive suite or the boardroom, but we make poor attempts at getting there. 

The myth about the “glass ceiling “

What do we mean by a ceiling made of glass? If it is glass, clear glass, it cannot be seen and it is over us like an invisible barrier which we sense and which hinder us from rising as fast as we deserve to the top of the organisation and our progress as we climb the corporate ladder. However, the good news is that if it is glass, it can be broken. So how do we break the glass and make it to the top?

Stop thinking about glass 

We should stop thinking that there are some things that we cannot do. In a particular year, for example, there were seasons of celebrations in Liberia, Germany and Chile because women were elected to head high government positions. In places like Scandinavia and Britain, a third of all corporate managers are women. In Latin America, there has been a 50% jump in the number of female politicians. Also, a greater number of women in public offices in countries such Bolivia, Cameroun and Malaysia have resulted in less spending on the military and more on health, education and infrastructure. Stop thinking ‘glass ceiling:’ whoever is making decisions at the top is interested in success, not the gender. 

See the bigger picture 

There is this incident where a girl told her playmate that she would be very important in future because she was going to be the wife of a president. This poor child did not have a glass ceiling; with that kind of thinking, it was more like a concrete roof! 

As females, we need to broaden our thinking, invest in ourselves, and see the whole picture about how our organisation and other organisations work. We need to read and understand a wide range of subjects, from financial statements to the latest marketing strategies. We need to look out for areas that are relevant to our area of expertise and interest and enhance our skills and abilities by taking part in those courses. The more we invest in ourselves, the higher our impact on our organisations. 

Plan your career path 

With careful planning, thinking, and action, we can manage and control the causes of problems and their outcomes in our careers. Our advantage as women is that we have relational building competencies, provide strong foundations for accomplishments and bring value- based decision-making to the table. We are experts at building relationships and are more responsive to the voice of the customer. That is why we have more female customer service personnel in the front line of service industries. 

It has been well researched that accomplishing organizational goals is more effective when team building is used. Men think of teams competitively, whereas women operate from a more collaborative perspective. We can develop a set of shared values that everyone sees and accepts as valuable to them, as well as to the organisation. The more we are coached to use this team building skill for the good of the organisation and our careers, the more likely we will succeed at the managerial, executive and board levels. 

Take credit where it is due 

When we use our natural team building abilities to achieve goals, we need to ensure that our contribution to the team’s effort is acknowledged and recognized. We do not need to give away credit due us. Is it modesty or are we just hiding our light under the bushel? The result of this is that since we rather focus on the team’s achievement collectively, we are not seen as having accomplished as much as we actually have. We are seen as ‘team players’ or ‘good contributors’ but not as good leaders. Being labeled a team player or a good contributor is not negative; however, because we want to attain a certain level of success in our jobs, we need to be seen as a significant factor to the success. The language of success means we own our own accomplishments. It may feel uncomfortable at first but with time you will get used to it, if you want to play with the movers and shakers of your organisation.

Be an active communicator 

Women tend to speak passively and tentatively rather than assertively. We modify our language to ensure no one is offended and we sometimes think modification gives further explanation, but this is not true. It does not help us achieve our goal of being seen as potential leaders.

For example: Instead of saying, “I might be able to get this information possibly this afternoon,” why not say, “ I’ll call you this afternoon with the information.” Say, “I need to ask you a few questions” instead of “Is it possible for you to answer some questions?” We need to be seen as taking a stance and sticking with it. Allowing others to keep on interrupting us when we are talking gives them control. 

Negotiate your true worth 

Another point that hinders our climb to the top is that we do not like negotiating. In the western world, where individual salaries are negotiated, research has shown that women with weak negotiations skills are losing more than US$500,000 by the age of 60. Those who consistently negotiate their salary, earn at least US$1million more than women who do not. 

Do not put a glass ceiling on your ability; negotiation is a skill which can be learnt. Learn well and combine it with other skills to move you faster into the executive suite. 

Develop women’s talent 

Businesses are fighting for talented people. We have to work with others to build strong support and develop systems to grow the talent of women in the organisation. The organisation must also be committed to developing more talented people of both genders. 

We need to learn from others: not only how to bake cake. Let us identify women and men who have made appreciable and recognizable impact in our area of business and interview them about how they made it in life and the corporate world in particular. 

In some instances where committees have been set up, some of the women concern themselves with ‘item 13’ and often rebuke the other women who stay with the men to deliberate on issues. At meetings, prepare to make valuable contributions. It is often those who equip themselves and make valuable recommendations and contributions at meetings who move on faster in the organisation. 

Keep your options open 

There are some organisations that simply will not allow women to move up the ranks. Do not take it personally; it is not about you, it is about the system. So when you find yourself in such an organisation,

* Believe in yourself 

* Move on to other organisations or departments

* Establish your own business 

You have the experience and intelligence that some smart organisation will see, value and reward. Your move to the executive suite or boardroom will happen all the more quickly as a result of your willingness to move on to other organisations.

You may be thinking about how to combine your other managerial duties at home with your goal to climb the corporate ladder. You need to prioritize; you need to ensure you have the support of your family. Share your vision with them so they can appreciate and tolerate your time spent outside the home. Use time management techniques and, of course, discipline in other areas of your life

Whichever steps we take to the top, remember that success does not depend on gender. There will be more women at the top if we take the dance steps of hard work, planning, ambition and adding to the bottom line as we smash the glass ceiling! 

Written By:

Sandy Kojo-Andah



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