When we look at the dire stats that describe how leadership on boards, in the C-Suite, and in senior levels of management, fail to reflect the workforce, we can now speak directly about the impact to the company’s bottom line. Research has shown that companies with more gender diversity at the top are more profitable and the same is true of companies that are more ethnically diverse.
There is more research substantiating the negative financial impact to companies that are not diversifying their leadership. But what’s more is that the amount of representation at the top impacts companies’ talent pool holistically. When diversity isn’t present across all levels throughout the organization, unconscious bias has a greater chance to impact which employee’s name makes into conversations for promotions, raises and other opportunities for exposure.
When we move away from the impact to the company and think about the individual, glass ceilings and a lack of representation has impact to. Representation is the way we see what is attainable for us, and the lack of it can create a negative story in our minds about our possibilities. If I don’t see anyone like me doing this, how can I be sure it really can be done?And without someone in the position or at the level you are seeking to move to you are likely challenged by understanding how to actually get there. Who is going to give me the roadmap for how to get there if no one has ever done it?
It is disappointing that there are still so many ceilings that still have to be shattered. While it is it challenging to do the necessary work to break through, there are some things you can do to make the road easier.
Use comparables for best practices. If you don’t see anyone that reflects your experience in the role you want to get to, look for a comparable example and seek to understand their experiences and insights. For example, if you want to be the Chief Counsel in your organization and there has never been a woman of color there, can you learn from the man of color who did it? Can you get connected with the woman of color who did it at a different organization? A ceiling means finding other people with your background who’ve done exactly what you are trying to do may be hard or impossible to find. So find the next best thing or the people who got close and use that person’s journey for inspiration. If you are lucky enough to build a relationship, use it for strategic help and mentorship.
Build relationships with people who don’t look like you! Yes, you need a supportive community of peers with shared backgrounds and experiences to get through this journey, but you also need to build relationships with the people who are in charge. Develop relationships with everyone, including your white male colleagues that are champions of diversity. They do exist and can be vital to helping you understand the rules of the game that you don’t know exist because you aren’t in the circle. In grad school, my white male mentor challenged me on my bad eye contact and other areas where I lacked his definition of executive presence. He caught some things my mentors of colors either hadn’t or didn’t value and worked with me weekly and we nipped a problem that I didn’t even know I had, in the bud. It made a huge difference in my career growth.
Join a community of people who share in your experience. You need both. Breaking barriers can be really disheartening, especially when you do occasionally fail, which is part of the game. Community is an important part of your self-care and it’s also an opportunity for knowledge to be shared and opportunities to be exchanged. You’ll need a strong circle where you’re going.
Work your butt off and shamelessly promote yourself. Make developing your brand as important as breathing. Promote your work at every opportunity. Make sure you are speaking up in meetings, talking to people in the elevator, chatting with senior leaders and telling the story of your work and contributions. The whole company should know who you are and the work you do. But don’t write checks your ass can’t cash. Be really good at what you do.
Take risks even when they don’t make sense. Don’t meet 100% of the qualifications? Apply anyway. Not sure you really deserve that raise? Ask for it anyway. Doubting if the comment you want to say makes any sense? Say it anyway. Feeling like you lack the experience to take on that role? Get some help, and coaching and take the role anyway. Stop second guessing yourself and giving yourself extra hoops to jump through! A high confidence and ability to take risks are non-negotiable if you want to break that ceiling down.
Invest in every professional development resource you can get your hands on. If you want to shatter a glass ceiling and land an opportunity no one like you has had before, you need to become really great at what you do. You become great by continuously working on your brand. Utilize coaches, collect feedback, spend time reflecting, and spend resources (both your company’s and your own) to attend every training you can to strengthen your skills.
Keep reminding yourself you are worthy. It is exhausting, isolating and stressful to continuously have to pave a way for yourself and feel the need to prove your worth, while some leaders excuse away their implicit bias. Systemic disadvantages, however, are not your fault. So whether you need to make a list of your talents, keep a journal of positive quotes, vision board it out or whatever works for you, find a way to remind yourself every single day that you deserve a seat at the table as much as anyone else, because you do.