The Real Glass Ceiling: It's Not What You Think. (Your Career)

Article excerpt

The concept of a glass ceiling isn't new. An invisible barrier that prevents capable employees from being promoted to top positions, the glass ceiling is often thought to affect only women or be caused by prejudice. A far more powerful and common glass ceiling affects men just as much as women.

Most corporations can be described as meritocracies: places where promotions are earned based on merit. Achievement and performance are emphasized; advancement is gained through hard work. However, between upper middle-management and the executive level, corporate culture nearly always shifts to a culture based on power.

The change is invisible and rarely, if ever, acknowledged openly. To advance further, a worker must play by the new rules even though they've never been explained. In fact, the new rules are so important to the way top teams function that even highly talented people

How Women (and Men) Can Have "It" All

U.S. women fill only 5 percent of executive positions, although they take half of the management slots available, according to BusinessWeek. That's not because they lack competence. Rather, it may be because they don't know how to demonstrate "it"--what BusinessWeek calls "executive presence."

Here are some do's and don'ts, which can help women (and men) show they've got "it."

Do make a polished entrance into a room by shaking hands and connecting with people immediately.

Do speak decisively. Don't equivocate with words such as "perhaps" or use "we" instead of "I."

Don't end sentences with a raised tone like a question.

Don't leave a meeting without contributing your thoughts; you'll look passive and unengaged.

Do plan what you'll say in meetings, rehearsing beforehand.

Do open up to senior executives in hallways or elevators, sharing info about your personal life to create bonds.

Do learn to self-promote. One method: Weave accomplishments into anecdotes.

The "nice girl, seen and not heard" attitude that women learn hurts them more the further they go in their careers, says BusinessWeek. Women who want to make it to the top should be sure to speak up. Learning how to build social capital is crucial, as leaders promote people they like and feel comfortable with. who can't conform will be blocked or eliminated. Though few people talk about it, this is the real glass ceiling.

What causes this shift in culture? In an organization in which people rise by merit, the differences between them shrink. Merit no longer separates one employee from another, but people must still be selected for top-level jobs. If one set of values no longer serves to evaluate workers, leaders must turn to another. Nearly always, power (sometimes described as "politics") is what replaces merit.

Top executives exercise power and influence in order to make strategy decisions and allocate resources. Influence and patronage play a large part in getting things done and become the major source of success; executives spend more time with people who are outside of the organization. At the executive level, you must become part of the power culture. People who resist become marginalized in the race for influence. So, how can you determine whether you really want to join this new culture? Consider these job elements vital to work satisfaction:

* aligns with your core values

* offers the right level of challenge with a sufficient amount of stretch

* has a corporate culture and environment that you're comfortable with. …