Banging Against the Glass Ceiling


Last week, one of the mailing lists I'm on discussed the glass ceiling. Some participants doubted the glass ceiling exists — that it may be more of a reaction on the part of the person perceiving the glass ceiling. The glass ceiling is real. Sometimes, it's discrimination against people who aren't developers (which is common for many test groups). Sometimes, it's discrimination against individuals because they aren't (take your pick: white, black, male, female, Asian, Russian, Indian, and more). Because many of the people who run companies are male, and because more women take time off from work to have/raise children, many women bang against the glass ceiling.

I've banged against the glass ceiling just about my entire career. Once I was denied a promotion because “Testers can't be senior engineers.” Bang! During an interview for another job, I was told by the VP that I wasn't eligible to be the Director of Product Development, because the major customers liked dealing with men. (How did that VP know??) Bang!

So what do we do about the glass ceiling? First, understand it. Much of senior management work is about trusting your peers to do the right thing that many senior managers can't figure out how to be comfortable with people who were dissimilar — in any way, shape, or form. This need for trust based on “people who look like me” permeates the organization. That's why in my hiring book, I talk about being aware that hiring people just like yourself is a form of discrimination. It's not right, but it happens all the time. After you understand it, you can choose what to do about it for you. Sometimes that means using your influencing skills on the people at the current company, by communicating with them in ways they can understand. Sometimes it means leaving. Sometimes it means living with it (although I've never chosen that route).

The problem with the glass ceiling is that it discriminates against people who may have the most suitable ideas for how to make product development (or any other function) work well. Why deprive yourself of talent, even if it comes in a different body type?

Take a look at this article or this other article to see articles specifically about women. The glass ceiling isn't limited to women, although it's most obvious when applied to women. Ilene Lang, President of Catalyst said it best, “What is surprising is that in an industry that thinks of itself as a meritocracy, women and men both perceive a lack of acceptance of women.”

It's time to change that.

I'll be taking time off from blogging for Thanksgiving – Have a lovely weekend.

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