Sarah Banda Purvis, Ph.D

The Discouraging Glass Ceiling

Although numerous business organizations have tried throughout the years to gloss over the illusion of inclusion with the use of token promotions and rhetoric about their advanced management development programs, clearly established sexual harassment policies and well-heeded equal employment opportunity practices, many professional women continue to talk about their discouraging experiences.

Government studies criticize the business world’s glass ceiling for women and other minorities, cautioning it is negative for business, given the evolving global marketplace and changing demographics in the labor force and consumer markets. Yet, recommendations for eliminating the ceiling seem to continue to rely upon affirmative action, CEO support and management’s voluntary adoption of more family friendly policies. In light of such suggestions, it will not be surprising if workplace disparities for professional women persist.

That having been said, though, a working woman can endeavor to minimize the discouragement inherent in work settings by becoming informed about the myths and misconceptions that sustain the workplace’s delusive nature. An informed woman can more objectively assess her business environment, realize she is not alone and work at eliminating self-deprecating reactions to the negative situations she sometimes encounters — reactions like frustration, low self-esteem, anxiety, faltering self-confidence and physical ailments as well as depression. The informed woman’s insights better prepare her to develop reasonable plans to enhance her own life rather than being distracted by disillusionment and resentment.

Harbor Neither illusions Nor Complacency

This woman does not permit herself to be deluded by the illusion of inclusion. She enters each work setting with cautious optimism, taking time to size up the workplace environment before reaching any conclusions. She is not gullible nor has she bought into everything she may have heard during the interview process. She observes and she listens. She periodically assesses how women are being treated. She notices disparities, however subtle. The showcasing of a handful of higher-level female executives does not impress her. After all, every organization has at least a few female tokens.

If the informed woman does not like how she has observed women being treated in her work setting or if she has concluded the kind of growth opportunities she had anticipated within the organization will not materialize, she does not become complacent. Rather, the informed woman works on moving forward by charting out a revised career plan that balances her professional goals, personal interests and financial needs. She also constructs a practical time line. She studies resource materials on career planning and knows starting a business or looking for the right opportunity in a different organization while maintaining a full-time job involves time, perseverance and patience. The informed woman refuses to become disheartened. She knows such behavior is self-defeating.

Bide Your Time, but Don’t Compromise

The informed woman also recognizes there often are reasons for biding time in an uncomfortable work situation. Some women bide time in a job because of what the position readily provides — financial stability, health benefits, retirement plan, convenient location, flexible work hours or possibly, abundant vacation time. Each woman’s needs are unique.

While biding time, though, the informed woman will not allow a discouraging work setting to bring her down physically or emotionally. She does not compromise her values to conform. She summarily dismisses egos she encounters. She does not waste energy thinking if only things were different. With her focus continually on the positive, she attempts to take from each work setting what she perceives is worth taking (e.g., learning a new skill, brushing up old skills, gaining exposure to a product or industry, earning a certain level of salary or health benefits, building a cash reserve to eventually start a business, establishing a pension, becoming more savvy about workplace interactions, etc.).

You Are Not Your Job

She does the best job she can under the prevailing circumstances, and most important, she does not ascribe the treatment she receives to her own self worth. She does not try to mimic role models profiled in articles or tokens elevated within a business organization. She finds and refines her own style.

In essence, the informed woman understands she exerts little influence over the dynamics of her work setting, and she can do little to change the culture of the organization. Senior management controls the scene; it belongs to them. The informed woman focuses on what she can influence and cultivate — her insights, her reactions, her personal goals and her professional plans. She remains absolute as she takes responsibility for moving her perspective beyond the myths.


Portions of this article have been excerpted from “The Illusion of Inclusion, Myths & Misconceptions Every Working Woman Needs to Know.” Additional excerpts are available at . is committed to presenting diverse points of view. However, the viewpoint expressed in this article is the opinion of the author and is not necessarily the viewpoint of the owners or employees at IMD.