You know you don’t have all the skills they’re looking for. OK, so you tick half the boxes – but the other half? You’d be a total impostor if you got that job. They’d find out sooner or later that you’ve never been in charge of P&L, and you’d feel like digging a hole in the Earth and hiding in shame. Better leave it, don’t even apply. You’d be wasting your time, and theirs.
If you’re a woman, it probably does. Because it turns out that (on average) women won’t apply for a job unless they tick 80% of the boxes. Men, on the other hand, will (on average) apply if they tick 50%.
It’s a fact – there are more men than women in our industry. And the higher up the ladder you go, the fewer women you see. Yet in the Western world, educational opportunities have been pretty much equal for men and women since the decade I was born, the 1970s. 50 years later, here we are, still living in a male-dominated world.
So what happened? Are males simply better at work than women? Naturally more ambitious, or more suited for technical subjects? Or is there some kind of conspiracy to block women from the higher echelons of the corporate world?
I should hope that there is no need to argue against the first conjectures. But just in case, let’s brush up our history. At the beginning of the computer era, programming was seen as a woman’s job (the men worked on developing hardware, which was more strategic at the time). Here’s a quote from an article published in Cosmopolitan in 1967:
“Twenty years ago, a girl could be a secretary, a schoolteacher… may be a librarian, a social worker or a nurse. If she was really ambitious, she could go into the professions and compete with men… usually working harder and longer to earn less pay for the same job.
Now have come the big, dazzling computers – and a whole new kind of work for women: programming. Telling the miracle machines what to do and how to do it. Anything from predicting the weather to sending out billing notices from the local department store.
And if it doesn’t sound like women’s work – well, it just is.”
At the time, there were no degrees in computer science, and women still outnumbered men in programming jobs. To quote Grace Hopper, the lady who invented the first compiler:
“It’s just like planning a dinner. You have to plan ahead and schedule everything so it’s ready when you need it. Programming requires patience and the ability to handle detail. Women are ‘naturals’ at computer programming.”
Clearly, our idea of what women and men are “naturally” inclined to do changes with the zeitgeist.
So are we left with the conspiracy theory? Do companies choose to hire/retain/promote men over women because they want to keep women out of power?
Personally, I don’t believe in “bad” people who willingly keep women out. I think the answer is much subtler.
We all (men and women) grew up in a male-dominated world, that shaped the way we think and behave. We all (at least in Western countries) grew up hearing fairy tales where a prince saves a woman from distress. Women could be passive and still be “promoted” to a better life; men, on the other hand, had to take bold action and daring risks to get what they wanted.
This culture could explain why today, men are more aggressive in going after promotions and power. Why even in fields that are traditionally associated with women, there are still so few who make it to the top. For example, of the approximately 130 chefs who have been awarded three Michelin stars – the highest recognition in the culinary arts – only six are women.
So what can we do about it? Resign ourselves to the fact that men will always have more power than women? Or try to change other people’s mentality?
I am not one to give up so easily. I also believe that it’s far easier to change ourselves than to change others. So if you’re a woman and you want to break the glass ceiling, here are my top three suggestions, for what they’re worth,
- Remember that, as African American author Alice Walker said, “The most common way people give up their power is by thinking they don’t have any.” If you don’t even try, you will never get what you want.
- Your unique skills probably don’t seem exceptional to you: they seem normal, because you have them. But not everyone does, and others might value them. Don’t underestimate your unique capabilities!
- Anyone who counts anything nowadays did not get there alone. We all stand on the shoulders of giants. Don’t underestimate the importance of building a network. But don’t try to get anything out of it: The best way to build a network is to bring value to others.
Biases come from both within us and our surroundings. But if we show up confidently and daringly, our actions can slowly chip away at all biases – our own and those in others. And the pressure from within and without should eventually explode that glass ceiling.
Silvia is Marketing Communications Director at Ateme. Throughout her 25-year career, she has communicated about a range of high-tech solutions and services including smart cards, mobile security, authentication for digital banking, and media tech. Before joining Ateme, she was Marketing Director at Anevia and prior to that, Marketing Communications Manager at Gemalto (now part of Thales), where she became co-chairwoman of a women’s network aimed at increasing visibility of the benefits of gender diversity.
Fluent in five languages and of dual Italian and Canadian nationality, Silvia holds an MBA from McGill University, a Post-Graduate Diploma from the London School of Journalism, and a BA in English and Philosophy from the University of Bristol.