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Women hold less than 5% of CEO positions in the U.S. and Europe, according to Financial Times, and over 2 million women left the workforce in 2020. Many factors contribute to these realities, which leave women feeling tired, disempowered and unmotivated, sometimes to the point of self-sabotage. The term “glass ceiling” was created by Marilyn Loden; the phrase is a metaphor for the invisible barrier that prevents women from achieving elevated professional success.
Despite making up 50.8% of the U.S. population and 58.2% of the civil labor force according to the U.S. Census, women are staggeringly absent from upper-level leadership positions in the American workforce.
Efforts to shatter glass ceilings in the workplace and life are still underway. Over the years, I’ve seen women still hesitating, hiding and holding back — allowing limiting beliefs, situations and circumstances to take over. Shattering inner and outer glass ceilings is critical for change to occur. Transformational work always starts with the inner work, which creates larger impact and influence.
Related: Smashing the Glass Ceiling in VC Funding and the Workplace
Here are seven ways to shatter your own glass ceilings that may be holding you back.
1. Release and redefine
Think about a belief or behavior that may be blocking you currently: What meaning are you giving it? Where did those thoughts and stories originate? Once you identify what is holding you back, write it on a piece of paper and then go bury, burn or release it. Then, redefine what it is that you desire. Come up with a new thought, belief, story or behavior that you want to adopt. In every moment, you have a choice to see and create differently. What will you release and redefine today?
2. Break out of the “good girl” mentality
Growing up, girls are praised for being a “good girl” via messages reinforced by society, media, parents, teachers and other influences. It is your responsibility to break free from the programmed “good girl” messages. One way of doing this is to take more risks, assert your ideas and express yourself authentically. Breaking free from what you are expected to do is the key to following your heart and your joy, which honors yourself and your truth.
3. Use your voice
A recent survey of 1,100 U.S. working adults conducted by Catalyst, a nonprofit that works to increase women in leadership, found that 45% of women business leaders say it’s difficult for women to speak up in virtual meetings. One in five say they’ve felt ignored or overlooked by colleagues during video calls. While this happens in business and in the virtual world, this also happens in everyday life.
Related: Why Working Women Need to Mentor Other Women
Women are not owning their full power or utilizing their voice because they fear others’ judgments and risk ruining their reputation. One way of strengthening this muscle is by leaning into the uncomfortable and taking imperfect action. Every time you use your voice, it makes it easier to make it a habit. Where can you start to use your voice more, regardless of how you feel? Don’t worry about what you sound like or who is judging you.
4. Find or hire a mentor, coach or advocate
Olympians, actors, actresses and the majority of highly successful people all have one thing in common: They have mentors and coaches to support them, guide them, hold them accountable, challenge and push them. Personal blind spots can occur, and a third party can help you shift and show you different ways of looking at things that you may have never thought about before.
5. Praise and promote yourself
Know your worth. A study done by KPMG found that 75% of female executives across industries have experienced imposter syndrome in their careers. Imposter syndrome involves persistent feelings of inadequacy, chronic self-doubt and feeling like a phony despite past and current accomplishments and successes. How can imposter syndrome be eliminated? It starts by celebrating ourselves and each other.
The first step is to remember and own all of your past successes, achievements and accomplishments. You can set aside some time and list out every single success, achievement and accomplishment as far back as you can remember. Praise yourself every day, write yourself a note, look in the mirror and speak to yourself — then celebrate all of your blessings. Finally, take action and get yourself out there. Promote yourself, connect with someone new or send that email. It doesn’t matter how you do it; it matters that you do it.
6. Ask for what you want
Do you ask for what you want? Do you ask for help and support? Asking requires vulnerability and getting over the fear of rejection. First, get clear about what the ask needs to be: What do you want and need? Then, take action because every time you take action, your confidence increases. Remember, if you never ask, the answer is always no.
Related: Why You Should Ask for Help at Work Instead of Giving It
7. Find a support system
Find a strong circle of support. Your environment can either make you, break you or keep you stagnant and stuck. We are truly the average of our environments, and if someone or something isn’t making you stronger, he or she is making you weaker. Breaking the glass ceiling and finding an environment that is going to challenge you will change your life. Research different online groups; ask friends, mentors and people who have what you want. Success leaves clues.
Every action you take creates a legacy for the next generations to come.
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