Reflections on, and in, Glass Ceilings



“There is no glass ceiling if you start at the top.”

I read that line this morning in an article praising the glory of entrepreneurship and I thought, that really describes my life now. I mean, no one ever would have promoted me to CEO. I wouldn’t even have been considered a good ‘diversity candidate’. (A diversity candidate, I’ve been told, is one who makes it slightly easier to tell the rest of the finalists apart.) And in addition to that pesky second X chromosome that I carry around, the typical CEO is in the neighborhood of a foot taller than me.

All things considered, it was just easier to start a company and give myself the title, although I have to admit that at the time, no one else wanted it.

On a more serious note, even self-made women CEOs experience well-documented challenges. Try googling “women founders getting venture capital”, and you’ll see what I mean. It’s just a fact that many of the places where you’re expected to ‘pay your dues’ have a sign hanging on the door that says ‘No girls allowed’. (Not literally, of course, but savvy women have no trouble reading between the lines.)

It’s just a fact that many of the places where you’re expected to ‘pay your dues’ have a sign hanging on the door that says ‘No girls allowed’.

After mulling these things over for a while, the whole line of thinking began to bother me. Like I normally do when I need a reality check, or just someone to bounce my ideas off of, I went to Mark, my Vision Former.

Let me take a moment aside to explain that term. My company created Teamability®, a completely new technology that analyzes and organizes teams based on each person’s innate affinity for serving a specific organizational need. In the language of Teamability, the name of each capital-R ‘Role’ in a team suggests the organizational influence the person will most effectively exert. For example, if you have a grand vision, and have even started a company and gotten it off the ground, you are probably a Founder or a Vision Mover…or perhaps both. If so, you haven’t lived till you’ve worked with a top flight Vision Former, who is your perfect complement and counterbalance.

Now back to the story. I said to Mark, ‘Maybe I just have never paid my dues like people think they have to, and maybe it’s the dues-paying which is why women are frustrated in typical organizations.’ And he disagreed.

One good thing about having someone whose Role complements yours is that you not only expect the occasional disagreement, you welcome it. It means that by the time you work it out (which you always do) you will both truly and lastingly agree on what makes the most sense.

“Really,” he said, “there’s been plenty of dues-paying for both of us.” He went on to say that the ‘no glass ceiling’ phrase – while catchy – isn’t entirely true, and that there’s a glass ceiling for everyone who isn’t a winner in the ‘lucky sperm club’, i.e., born into money and/or power. (And of course we know that those dues are sometimes extracted in other, even less desirable, ways.)

There’s a glass ceiling for everyone who isn’t a winner in the ‘lucky sperm club’

The Vision Former continued: “There’s no quick or easy fix for women (or men) who are frustrated and want to move up in typical organizations. Entrepreneurship can be an escape route, but (using our startup experience an example) look at how crazy you have be in order to take it! Also, the fascination with entrepreneurship plays into the fantasy that life is better and all will be wonderful at the top. It inherently supports an economically hierarchical model of happiness that really doesn’t work for everyone.”

Role-fit is the first step to happiness on the job, because a sense of meaningful contribution becomes intrinsic to one’s activity. After that, happiness is increased when an organization (including one that you own) understands and facilitates Team-fit and Role-pairings. Further down the road, building a team (or a town, or a society) where each person understands and practices Role-respect will open the door to group happiness. All along the way, Coherence gains in strength and influence, and Teaming comes into full bloom.

Building a team…where each person understands and practices Role-respect will open the door to group happiness.

According to, 44% of new businesses fail within 3 years, and in 76% of the cases, the top reason is incompetence (45%), followed by unbalanced experience and lack of management expertise (30%).

“It’s the people,” said the VF, “not the business.”

Encouraging people to be entrepreneurial when they don’t have the ‘equipment’ for the task (or any way to know whether or not they have it, or where to get it) is not so different from a football coach moving a quarterback to the D-line. It makes no sense, and the outcome is liable to be ugly.

There can be a big advantage in starting and/or being in an entrepreneurial company. It is the opportunity (maybe) to discover who you are and what you really like to do, and it comes from having to serve the organization as chief-cook-and-bottle-washer for a while. People on the big corporate ladder rarely have that much diversity of experience. There is a way to discover who you are, and how you ‘team’ most effectively and happily, without risking the security of your family or future.

Your response to discovering your own Teamability could just as easily be “Now I know I would hate (or love) having my own business,” as “Now I know why I hate my job – I quit,” or “Now I know why I LOVE my job; no thanks, I’d rather not go into management.”

There is the glass ceiling of reality, and a glass box of our own doing. The important question: is yours opaque or transparent?

Did you like today’s post? If so you’ll love our frequent newsletter! Sign up HERE and receive The Switch and Shift Change Playbook, by Shawn Murphy, as our thanks to you!



Image credit- alphaspirit / 123RF Stock Photo

Dr. Janice Presser is CEO of The Gabriel Institute. She is a behavioral scientist and the architect of Teamability®, the new technology that measures how people will perform in teams. Dr. Presser has been engaged in research and development of talent science and team analytics for over 25 years. A recognized thought leader in qualitative assessment and human infrastructure management methods, Dr. Presser has served on SHRM’s Human Capital Assessment/Metrics Special Expertise Panel and Taskforce on Workforce Planning. She is also a part of the Constellation Orbits group. Founded by R. ‘Ray’ Wang, Constellation Research is a guiding light in the fields of innovative and disruptive technology. Its stated goal is to help clients realize the Art of the Possible. She is the author of six books, most recently @DrJanice: Thoughts and Tweets on Leadership, Teamwork & Teamability®. Her forthcoming book, due in 2014, will explore the theoretical and physical foundations of teaming, and their profound impact on the structure, development, and leadership of teams.

  • Loved this post because I’ve seen men experience the “glass ceiling” as much as women. At some point, it becomes easier to recognize those genes that will climb to the top of the ladder, and they often have nothing to do with hormones. Not many are willing to acknowledge the “luck sperm club” exists, but it does.

    I believe that most glass ceilings are created out of our own doing, and if we could only recognize that there is a way to break free of self-limiting beliefs, we could reach for the stars.


  • Dr. Janice Presser

    Thanks, LaRae, for reminding us that self-limiting beliefs just keep us down!

  • Lisa Shelley

    Janice, thought-provoking post! I totally agree on the concepts that you present. I have frequently observed employees of both genders desire an executive role which really isn’t a good fit for them. Actually achieving the role can result in failure when the lack of fit becomes apparent. Not being able to achieve the role feels like a “glass ceiling” or other barrier preventing them from success. Unfortunately, I think traditional business culture all too frequently sets up this paradox by over-valuing executive leadership roles over all others. Far beyond just the salary benefit, achieving these roles also means access to information, resources and privilege. In some really traditional businesses it translates to very visible perks such as parking spots, offices with doors and a company car. If the culture continually reinforces a singular definition of career success tied to achieving a particular level, more than 70-80% of your population have little chance of ever feeling successful. Until businesses figure out how to create cultures that value and empower contributions at all levels, we will have people striving to achieve roles that aren’t a good fit as a means to feel like a valued part of the organization and achieve “success”. It is only when our needs of belonging and achieving are met that we can allow ourselves to experience the fulfillment and true success that results when we feel an intrinsic connection to our work. Thanks for raising this issue.

  • footer-logo

    There’s a more human way to do business.

    In the Social Age, it’s how we engage with customers, collaborators and strategic partners that matters; it’s how we create workplace optimism that sets us apart; it’s how we recruit, retain (and repel) employees that becomes our differentiator. This isn’t a “people first, profits second” movement, but a “profits as a direct result of putting people first” movement.

  • Connect

    email: connect@switch&
    1133 Ferreto Parkway
    Dayton, NV 89403

    Terms & Conditions  |  Privacy Policy

    Newsletter Subscription

    Do you like our posts? If so, you’ll love our frequent newsletter! Sign up HERE and receiveThe Switch and Shift Change Playbook, by Shawn Murphy, as our thanks to you!
  • Contact Us

    Time limit is exhausted. Please reload the CAPTCHA.