The Glass Ceiling and the Unique Challenges That Women Face


The Glass Ceiling and the Unique Challenges That Women Face

What is the Glass Ceiling?

The term “glass ceiling” is a metaphor for obstacles that women face when striving to move upward in the workplace.

What this really means is there are more opportunities for women entering the workforce at lower levels in an organization than higher levels. 

What is it then that holds women back?

From 1991 to 1996, through The Glass Ceiling Commission, the US Department of Labor studied how it affected women and minorities in the workforce. In 1995, the commission found that white men held most management positions in corporations, and that the workforce was divided, with women and minorities accessing fewer leadership opportunities.

My personal experience

The level of education, social skills and ability to work in a competitive environment is not what prevents women from advancing. Women continue to be high scoring, high achieving individuals.

There are two words that come to mind… “Unconscious Bias.”

As a woman of color, I have always found that men and women who are not of colour are very dismissive of my voice. I always have to be louder, funnier. It is exhausting. I have often heard comments after winning a court application or getting a desired result on a file: “You’re actually really articulate.” “You’re actually really good at what you do.”

If you have ever made those comments to me or anyone alike, do better.

I have too many personal experiences to share, but the most recent one that comes to mind is when I was interviewed by two white men from a downtown law firm for an associate position. Everyone who knows me knows I have an easy-going personality and (I think) I have a pretty good sense of humor. I generally interview well. So, on this occasion, the two men decided that they knew me. The first thing that they said to me was, “We don’t do legal aid, so if people in your community expect that, it’s a no.” I shrugged it off, but they continued to downplay my achievements, which was the worst part. The examples are uncomfortable to mention so let’s not go there. I don’t want to embarrass anyone — you know who you are.

Let’s do better.

Surely things have changed by now?

Yes, women are playing a bigger role in Canada’s corporate boardrooms, but new statistics from Ottawa show they still have a long way to go. Statistics Canada looked at more than 10,000 public, private and government corporations and found most of their boards of directors were composed entirely of men in 2016 and 2017.

Examples of women in Canada who are breaking through the glass ceiling in the corporate world:

  • Rania Llewellyn became the first woman and person of colour to lead a major Canadian corporation as the CEO of Laurentian Bank.
  • Linda Hasenfratz, CEO of Linamar Corporation.
  • Heather Reisman, CEO of Indigo Books & Music.

Why do women face challenges? The actual truth

The truth is that men and certain women (this is true from personal experience) see women as a risk and liability. She’s going to get married. She’s going to get pregnant. She can’t put in the same hours a man can. In the corporate world, women are still viewed as “soft” and viewed by men as not willing and ready to have a cut-throat attitude in the workplace.

What needs to change?

Women who are already in leadership roles, should support women in the workplace, that is a no brainer, but the reality is that men need to step up. Men who hold such roles, need to be willing to accept change. Promote diversity and inclusion. So, this doesn’t mean making superficial comments and posts about how your company is all about EDI. This means actually supporting people of all different genders, races and other characteristics. Let’s support women owned businesses to show growth in the economy for those businesses. Lastly, those experienced professionals who have shattered the glass ceilings can offer support and guidance to those wishing to pursue more in their careers