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Melt the Glass Ceiling

November 1, 1992
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Related Topics: Discrimination and EEOC Compliance, Diversity, Workforce Planning, Featured Article
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People often write and speak of breaking the glass ceiling. I believe breaking to be a dangerous method. When glass shards are flying everywhere, someone is bound to get hurt. My preference is for melting it. Using extreme heat, we can remove this barrier to the executive suite, and the only people who might be burned are the people who are near it. Here are 10 ways you can heat up and eliminate the glass ceiling in your organization:

  1. Identify first the extent of the glass ceiling in your organization. A systemswide audit provides baseline data used to measure progress. Compare the number of women at each level with the ratio of men to women in the organization and the effect on productivity, profitability and liability.

  2. Define your vision for the company. Do you have problems that are greater than gender bias?

  3. Institute career-development opportunities for all employees. Use a self-directed, computer-based program for people to work on during their free time, hire trainers to provide career-development sessions, buy workbooks or develop your own program.

  4. Launch networks for employees to gather and identify problem areas, and foster diversity interventions. Women and minorities usually network first, but white men should be encouraged to gather to address their issues as well. Provide whatever they need and allow them to set their own agendas. Listen to these groups.

  5. Organize a self-directed group (using a TQM model) to work with the networks to address the glass ceiling. Empower them to impact the organizational climate.

  6. Eliminate systemic bias uncovered in the audit. This may require the redesign of your interview instrument, changing the definition of effective leadership as used in your annual review process, or rethinking your entire succession planning process.

  7. Empower employees to speak out when they feel they've been shortchanged—for whatever reason. This is tricky, because an employee isn't empowered in one shot; the skills you develop in them must be supported by the organization's actions and maintained vigorously and constantly.

  8. Celebrate risk taking. Make it acceptable for people to make mistakes. Women often are reluctant to report gender bias on the part of a co-worker if it gets the person in trouble, and the co-worker won't be open to change if it's dangerous to admit a mistake.

  9. Institutionalize talking to instead of talking about. Most organizations have procedures in place for workers to file complaints about how they're being treated. It's better to speak directly to the offender. Train workers in the management of conflict and model it for them.

  10. Prepare for a lengthy process. Quantum change may be in order and requires some organizational adaptation to prepare people.

Someone once said that working on culture change "requires the dedication, patience and conviction of a revolutionary." Choose a revolutionary prepared to put his or her energies into this process tirelessly and patiently, and hurry up and begin.

Personnel Journal, November 1992, Vol. 71, No. 11, p. 73.

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