Podcast interview by Belinda Doveston of Apian Learning and Usha Maharaj CA(SA), Executive and Leadership Development Coach.
Reflecting on what your own limits are, what your “glass ceiling” is, will ultimately help you to know yourself first, understand your strengths and your shortfalls. Only then can you focus on how you connect with your team.
We have all used the phrase or experienced it in our careers, but have you ever wondered where the phrase “glass ceiling” comes from? In 1978 Marilyn Loden was a last minute addition to speak on a panel along with four other women at the Women's Exposition in New York. The discussion of the panel was “Mirror mirror on the wall” and specifically how women and their self-image were the root cause of their slow advancement in the workforce. Marilyn was trying to explain, despite what her colleagues on the panel were saying, that there was something else at play, an invisible barrier. And out of her mouth popped the term “glass ceiling”.
During the Apian Learning podcast, author, educator and founder, Belinda Doveston, and Usha Maharaj CA(SA) discuss the development of women leaders and how to overcome some of the obstacles, ie. glass ceilings, women face on a daily basis.
The struggle to stay
Globally women empowerment is at the forefront and there is a keen focus towards developing leadership skills in women. “Don’t get me wrong, it’s definitely not that women require leadership skills more than men,” says Maharaj. It’s just that in the working environment, as with anything in life, different groups of people experience situations differently and that is because of their background, upbringing, what they’ve been exposed to, the paths created for them, etc. In the workplace, leadership positions have largely been dominated by men, which means the path to leadership has been charted, formulated, developed, established, by men.
Women have been struggling for years to break through barriers in the workplace. Women need to work harder and prove themselves time and again for the same leadership positions, while balancing all other responsibilities that are typically associated with women, such as caring for and raising a family.
One of the most common causes of women leaving the workplace and not taking up leadership positions is that they feel the weight of the responsibility towards their families. When they have children, many women succumb to societal norms and pressures or even to the self-imposed guilt of trying to balance work and family and choose to leave or slowdown their career progression rather than trying to find the balance that will allow them to achieve their ambitions while contributing as working moms.
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Guilt and Expectations
Then there is the guilt, the working mom’s guilt. This guilt is the biggest stumbling block for women, even though much of this guilt is self-imposed. The expectation that many women impose on themselves, that in order to be a successful mom she needs to be constantly available to her family, may be welcomed by society but must be challenged by women and those who support women empowerment and leadership. The guilt and the pressure of trying to be more in the workplace leads to many women believing they have to sacrifice their career ambitions in order to put their families first. Women leaving the workplace and giving up before they reach the peak in their careers affects diversity in the workplace, and limits the opportunity of employers to benefit from a balanced leadership team.
Any successful company that wants to empower women and women leadership should understand that each employee is an individual. Companies that implement a “one size fits all” model to overcome the challenges experienced by women in the workplace tend to ignore the uniqueness of the individual women in their workforce and their individual drivers of growth.
But, when you have a diverse group of people in your team or sitting around a boardroom table, the results will always exceed expectation.
As Doveston states, the term “glass ceiling” is often associated with women and minorities. Yet we all have a glass ceiling of our own, that hard limiter that’s sitting in our sub-conscience telling us what we are and are not capable of; as a parent, individual, leader, employee or entrepreneur.
The challenge for you is to set aside research and societal norms and instead write down everything that you truly value. If you truly value your career, your family, your growth and aspirational goals, then make your life a picture of what you value. We all grow up and create a belief system based on the experiences that we had as a child. If you grew up in a house where your mother worked, where you saw her being happy and successful in not only being a career woman but also a mother then you will grow up with that belief and value system. As a fulfilled working mom, you are giving your children a vision to refer to, while assisting in changing the norms that society is bound by.
As a leadership and executive coach, Usha helps individuals dig deep into addressing their challenges while gaining a greater sense of awareness. When women are unhappy in, or leave the workplace, it is often the case that they do not really understand the source of their discontent or are unable to resolve the challenges they are experiencing. The insights gained by coaching women get to the root of the cause, and learning how to understand and articulate it, help them to address the concerns and helps them make empowered decisions.
As a woman in business, and a leader, you must constantly invest in understanding who you are, grow your emotional intelligence, your level of EQ and focus on how to connect and communicate with others. Reflecting on what your own limits are, what your “glass ceiling” is, will ultimately help you to know yourself first, understand your strengths and your shortfalls. Only then can you focus on how you connect with your team. When you do that and create an emotional connection you will find that your levels of leadership will escalate and grow phenomenally, vaporising your glass ceiling.
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About the author:
Usha Maharaj CA(SA) is an Executive and Leadership Coach in South Africa who went from small town trainee accountant to Director in a Big-4 audit firm. Her 16+ year corporate career had all of the highs and lows of a high performing workplace where she shattered setbacks, crushed challenges and conquered fears to enjoy a highly successful career. She now inspires women, ambitious individuals and executives to reach their own highest levels of success while living a balanced and happy life.
Find out more at www.ushamaharaj.com.