10 Smart Ways for Women in the Workplace to Shatter the Glass Ceiling

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Katie Burke
Katie Burke




Editor's note: This post originally appeared on HubSpot's Marketing Blog. For more content like this, subscribe to Marketing.

When I was in the fourth grade, one of my teachers encouraged me to audition for a children’s news program that would provide a “young perspective” on current events and happenings around the city.

Shortly after I'd started to prepare for the audition, my parents got a call from one of the producers.

As it turns out, they were actually looking for two boys to co-host the program, however, they'd still consider me for the field reporter role.

That's when I remember my dad saying, “Katie, if you want the hosting job, go get it. Tell them why you want it and show them you deserve it. Don’t just take third place because that’s what on the table.”

So I completed my audition, making it clear that I wanted to be considered as a co-host. In the end, the producers decided to have three young men and two young women rotate the hosting duties. I was one of them.

Why am I sharing this story about my short tenure hosting on public television in Vancouver?

Well, while the gig didn't turn out to be a smashing success, it was my first ever exposure to the fact that the world is full of impressions about the types of people who “should” or “could” inherit certain roles. And in the spirit of International Women’s Day, it serves as a great reminder for women of all ages and in all places that glass ceilings are meant to be broken.

Looking for more inspiration? Check out the 10 tips below. From harnessing vulnerability to learning how to rebound, these strategies can be used to help you defy the odds and advance yourself both personally and professionally.

10 Smart Ways to Shatter the Glass Ceiling

1) Do great things before you're ready.

The desire to feel certain that we'll do a great job before we sign up for a task is a common characteristic that can end up holding women back when it comes to the workplace. On one hand, this is noble. However, on the other hand, it means we can be easily left behind -- not as a result of aptitude, but rather attitude.

For wisdom on this topic, I look to the great philosopher Amy Poehler, who wrote:

Great people do things before they’re ready. They do things before they know they can do it. Doing what you’re afraid of, getting out of your comfort zone, taking risks like that -- that’s what life is.”

So if you’ve been waiting to raise your hand, to ask for that promotion, to offer to lead a project, or to pitch your idea, don’t wait longer. The most remarkable people in the world don’t wait until the stars align to tackle things that scare them, so don’t be afraid of the deep end. Dive in.

2) Stop treating vulnerability like a weakness.

Early in my career, I associated success with perfection. "Never let them see you sweat," was a constant refrain in my head. As was Steve Martin’s epic quote: “Be so good they can’t ignore you.”

The honest truth is that great entrepreneurs and great leaders guide teams that occasionally stumble and fail. Your success as a leader is more defined by your response to those failures than their very existence. To that end, I think women and men can benefit significantly from following Brené Brown’s advice:

Believing that you’re enough is what gives you the courage to be authentic, vulnerable, and imperfect.”

Check your infallibility at the door and embrace imperfection in pursuit of excellence, not in spite of it. (Check out this post for even more awesome advice from Brené Brown.)

3) Believe there is enough sun for everyone.

Narrow views of company diversity and inclusion protocols suggest that there is a finite amount of power and achievement in the world, and that efforts to expand opportunities for women come at the expense of men. In fact, research shows that teams with more women perform better and that companies with more diverse composition deliver higher returns.

With this in mind, take a look at this quote from actress Tracee Ellis Ross that I keep on my wall:

I cheer for people. I was raised to believe there is enough sunlight for everyone.”

The sooner we eliminate the notion that power is a limited resource, the faster we’ll create room for more diverse voices at the table -- and for more women on board.

4) Check your assumptions at the door.

It’s sad to say in 2016, but our female engineers are still regularly bypassed for technical questions at external recruiting events. Not to mention, nearly every woman I have ever worked with in a leadership position has been mistaken for an assistant at some point in her tenure.

Everyone has unconscious biases they bring to work, and it can be challenging to alter them. However, instead of denying them, it's important that we consider how we can learn from these sources of unconscious bias and identify improvements as they relate to gender.

Maybe it’s in the job descriptions you write, the candidates you choose to interview, or the assumptions you make about people at networking events. All of us have room for improvement, so take a hard look at one area that needs work and invest some time and energy to actively address it each week.

5) Set the bar high.

When I ask many young women what they want to achieve, they often mention an incremental next step to their current role. This is a stark contrast to young men, who typically share a stretch goal for a top job or leadership position. For this (and many other reasons), HubSpot is running a program specifically focused on educating and empowering women to consider board leadership roles, as well as encouraging companies to identify and engage with female board members.

Regardless of how you choose to do this at your company, within your family, or on your team, share examples of women leading the way in the biggest ways possible. Doing so not only stretches women’s ambition and imagination, but it also encourages both men and women to think differently about what executive leadership looks, sounds, and behaves like.

6) Learn how to rebound.

I’ve been lucky to have some really great moments in my career. But then again, I've also had some rough stretches. These instances range from a particularly challenging dynamic with an old boss to some really harsh feedback from a senior executive.

Most of the successful leaders I know can share war stories of career moments gone amuck, and yet when you’re in the eye of the storm, you feel like you’re the only one who has ever botched something so poorly.

If you’re feeling lost or in the middle of a challenging career stretch, my suggestion is to solicit perspective from someone you trust. The goal is to objectively identify where the biggest holes are -- whether they are team flaws, plan flaws, or personal flaws -- and develop a plan to address them. People often ignore inflection points while waiting for career boiling points. However, I think learning to take a hit and come back swinging builds not only your resilience, but your respect in an organization, too.

7) Build a network you can learn from.

The old expression that "your network is your net worth" is cliché, but studies show that individuals with large open networks succeed at a much higher rate than those with smaller, more closed networks.

While our busy schedules can make it difficult to find time to attend networking events, there's no doubt that these opportunities are worth penciling in. When you consider that having a diverse and well-connected extended network can not just help you grow your brand, but also your business, your reach, and your potential opportunities down the line, these events become much easier to prioritize.

Having trouble getting started? Approach your next networking event with a goal of building ten net new connections that you can learn something from in the next six months. Doing so will keep you focused on your personal growth while expanding your horizons.

(Check out this article for my best advice on how to network like a pro.)

8) Show your work.

Because women are more likely to be humble when it comes to accomplishments, we often deprioritize sharing exhibits of our work externally. For example, if you’re a designer, when was the last time you updated your personal portfolio online? If you’re in marketing, when was the last time you published a blog post on your own experience or insights? It's likely that these things have taken a backseat to other team priorities.

To combat this, block out a half hour each month to update your LinkedIn profile, post to Medium to share your own perspectives, or create and publish something you truly love. Doing so will make it easier to surface career opportunities and help you position yourself as a force to be reckoned with -- both within and outside your organization.

9) Practice giving and receiving feedback.

Giving and receiving tough feedback can be a real hurdle to growth, both as a manager and as an individual contributor. However, the sooner you master digesting constructive feedback and giving it out to your teammates, the faster you’ll grow personally and professionally.

Kim Scott describes candor in feedback more effectively than anyone I’ve seen, so spend time thinking about how you can optimize your own feedback channels and systems to maximize learning and collaboration and minimize drama and politics. Doing so will help you grow as a leader and get you much more comfortable delivering tough news, difficult feedback, and authoritative coaching, all of which are critical to senior leadership positions.

(Check out this episode of The Growth Show for more insight from Kim Scott.)

10) Forget about "having it all."

Many women I know strive for personal and professional success, amazing friendships, fulfilling relationships, close-knit families, rapidly growing career tracks, and of course an Oprah-like closet to boot. However, the concept is dangerous, not just for its elusiveness, but because it’s also one of the many reasons that women often waste time tearing down each other instead of building one another up.

When you’re convinced perfection is the primary goal, you become overly focused on elements of it that you’re missing. Instead of focusing on perfection, strive for growth on the things that matter most to you. What matters most to you may change over time, and that’s just fine. You must spend less time focusing on getting into a specific lane or fitting someone else’s framework and more time investing in what feels authentic to you in terms of your goals and growth.

Women in the Workplace

I always advise women to rely on two senses when it comes to gender equality in the workplace: a sense of confidence and a sense of humor.

Confidence is imperative for knowing that you can and should resist people’s stereotypes of what you are capable of doing, and actively solicit people who help you question the status quo in that regard (thanks Mom and Dad!).

Humor is imperative for not letting those incidents where someone underestimates you get you down and make you bitter. So assume best intention, take things in stride, and create a network of people who help you stay positive -- even when you’re underestimated or passed over.

Although the glass ceiling still exists -- particularly in executive leadership roles -- there are a lot more holes in it than ever before. One of the reasons I’m so energized by millennial women is that I truly believe this generation has the ability to continue the great work the generation before us did with regard to access and impact. I look forward to seeing some serious dents in the coming years based on your contributions.

What are your favorite tips for shattering the glass ceiling? Share them with us in the comments section below.

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