How to Identify a Glass Ceiling at Work and Move Past It

Glass Ceiling

Glass ceilings keep people, especially women, back from accomplishing their career goals. Learn how to spot a potential glass ceiling and how to overcome one.

Key takeaways:

  • Glass ceilings get in the way of career advancement, most often for women or minorities.
  • The term was first coined in 1978 by Marilyn Loden
  • Signs to watch for to identify a glass ceiling:
  1. Persistent feelings of devaluation at work
  2. Qualifications continue to exceed job duties
  3. One person with equal experience isn’t getting promoted
  4. The organization only brings in outside hires
  • Ways to break a glass ceiling:
  1. Grow your network
  2. Set up clear goals
  3. Be your own advocate
  4. Create opportunities for yourself

Women and minorities continue to face significant roadblocks to getting fair, equal treatment at work. From the pay gap to a lack of inclusion, today’s employers must be cognizant of these issues and stay ahead of them.

One of the many obstacles facing women and minorities in the workplace is the glass ceiling. This invisible barrier can be hard to identify and shatter so that everyone has equal rights and opportunities. McKinsey’s Women in the Workplace 2022 report found that women are still dramatically underrepresented in leadership roles, and women leaders are switching jobs at very high rates, primarily because of a lack of advancement opportunities. The report also found that women who are part of another minority group related to race, sexual orientation or disability experience “compounded discrimination” at work.

So how can you identify a glass ceiling? We discuss this below, plus we give tips on how to positively overcome it.

What is a glass ceiling?

glass ceiling isn’t tangible. It is a concept that represents roadblocks in the workplace and is most closely associated with the experience of women or minorities. A glass ceiling is a barrier that keeps people from getting promoted or hired into executive-level jobs in their industry or company.

Many people experience the proverbial glass ceiling. They may find again and again that despite their great work and qualifications, they can’t move up. They see their colleagues being promoted while they’re left behind, and there’s no apparent reason for it.

The term “glass ceiling” was first used in 1978, when Marilyn Loden suggested that it wasn’t personal issues that got in the way of female advancement, but cultural barriers. These barriers are related to the emphasis on women’s appearances at work or the idea that because a man is the main breadwinner of a family, he deserves a better salary.

While progress has been made, there’s still a long way to go. There are only 74 women CEOs out of the U.S.’s top 500 highest-grossing companies, which is close to 15%. Women also make around 80 cents for every dollar a man makes.

How to identify a glass ceiling

So, what does a glass ceiling look like? Here are a few warning signs that you’re dealing with a glass ceiling in your organization or industry:

  1. Persistent feelings of devaluation at work

Most employees have frustrating days at work occasionally. When people persistently feel like they’re not valued or appreciated, however, something could be wrong. Ask: Do managers actively show workers they’re valued? Are they interested in their career goals? Do they support them in reaching those goals? Do they ever discuss employees’ futures?

If people don’t feel like their work is appreciated or their career goals are recognized, it may be a sign that the company isn’t interested in promoting qualified, committed people. There may be another hidden agenda for leadership.

  1. Qualifications continue to exceed job duties

Is someone too qualified for what they’re doing every day or what they’re getting paid? They may have outgrown their position, and if they don’t see any opportunities in sight, they may be hitting a glass ceiling in the industry or organization.

People need to be able to keep growing. It is especially crucial to focus on growth opportunities for women and minorities. They may be ready to take on new roles and responsibilities now, but no one is paying attention.

  1. One person with equal experience isn’t getting promoted

It can be really frustrating for some workers to see promotion after promotion without ever landing one themselves. They may be hitting a glass ceiling if they’re doing everything their colleagues are doing, and they have all the same qualifications, but they’re never the one moving up. They may start to feel helpless.

Each employee should be treated equally at work. They have put in the time and effort, and maybe there’s no clear reason why they’re not getting any new opportunities.

  1. The organization only brings in outside hires

One sign of a big problem is when executives don’t want to promote from within. They only bring in outside hires. While this is of course necessary for some roles, the company should make an effort to value the talent they already have and give their people better opportunities. Otherwise, they could be implementing a glass ceiling, where capable, qualified individuals aren’t getting the time of day.

How to break a glass ceiling

Glass ceilings present significant challenges to much of the population, but they unfortunately still exist in today’s work culture. There are things you can do at work, however, to break through and move ahead.

  1. Grow your network 

Strengthening professional connections brings new opportunities. You can start to build your network and move ahead by zeroing in on people who can help your career at your current job or via online tools like LinkedIn. Remember to give more than you take by offering professional assistance to coworkers and supervisors since the mark of a true leader is the willingness to serve others.

  1. Set up clear goals

To climb the ladder at work, set SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, time-bound) goals to best prepare yourself for success. Just remember that no matter how well you prepare and how hard you work, failure is an inevitable part of success. The key is to use every setback as a learning opportunity.

  1. Be your own advocate 

No one is going to care about your goals more than you, so always be your own advocate at work. Create a positive reputation for yourself by being a team player who is consistent. Highlight your strengths in a non-boasting way and also be willing to adapt to become a more efficient and valuable member of your team.

  1. Create opportunities for yourself 

If you have the mentality that you are in charge of your destiny, you can look for ways to reach the leadership roles that you want by creating your own opportunities. Look for opportunities at work to take ownership of tasks and put yourself in charge.

You might also choose to ultimately branch out and start your own company. It can be a challenge but becoming your own boss presents limitless opportunities.

How StaffLink helps organizations provide support

Identifying a glass ceiling is the first step to conquering it. Glass ceilings hold many people, especially women and minorities, back from reaching their career goals and taking on more advanced roles.

Sometimes a company may not have the right HR resources to understand how they’re supporting their workers and whether there are any barriers in place for minorities in the workplace. With the right partner, organizations can uncover any obstacles getting in the way of employee satisfaction and retention.

StaffLink is here to help. We work with businesses like yours to help develop better systems for payroll, risk management, benefits and other HR solutions to improve your processes and support your people more effectively.

Request a proposal or contact us at (954) 423-8262 for more information.