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The Glass Ceiling is a Perception

This is a generalisation, but women create their own glass ceilings by how they view their value and their worth.

It is in our very nature to strive for success and to thrive, it is a goal that most of us share and hope to achieve. However, the path to success is by no means an easy one and often, we interpret the signage on the path inaccurately which takes us in a completely different direction, or does it?

Our ability, therefore, to stay on the journey and reach our goals will be a differentiating factor for women who mentally “dissolve the perceived glass ceiling,” which, exists in our own minds.

There is no foolproof recipe on how this is to be achieved. Success and leadership are unique to each person. The journey will be individually exclusive, and the destination cannot be pre-determined, but it is reached through purpose and intention.

The Glass Ceiling is a Perception

Three roads, one destination.

Obtaining success is a road well-travelled, which is why it is so valuable to those who have reached their destinations and beyond. Stellenbosch Business Institute is one of Africa’s most impactful executive learning businesses and features three women who are in varying stages of the “perceived glass ceiling journey” through hard work and determination. Each has remained true to themselves, however, even the well-travelled road to success only has guidelines and no sure way to attain goals.

“I never had a plan” comments Belinda Knight, Managing Executive of Stellenbosch Business Institute, on her fruitful career. “I took opportunities wherever they presented themselves and if they did not, I created my own opportunities, not aggressively but with deep self-worth and sheer determination. More importantly I never compromised on any of my values and this I believe built trust which opened unexpected doors. Some would say I have been lucky, and that could be true. But with no plan and only an open road of opportunities before me, I did not wait for others, I stepped in and stepped up.”

Success for each of us is completely objective, so running your own race at your own pace is what keeps Nadeira Karriem, Client Executive at Stellenbosch Business Institute fulfilled. “I’ve not carved out my career path, I gravitate to spaces where I feel most creative, challenged, and effective knowing my family support my ambitions, and both are equally important to me.” The career advancement Nadeira has had, has provided her with growth that allows her to learn new skills, test her mettle and grit but she maintains that “soft and strong can authentically co-exist" although some situations will challenge that.

“I agree that what is considered success for one female leader may not be the same for another” says Julia Cook, Network Executive at Stellenbosch Business Institute, “and it is essential to respect and support diverse definitions of success. I have worked with women who are striving for financial and personal fulfillment, and some who are completely focused on empowering others with “lift as you rise” as their mantra, which I am grateful for, as mentors have been an important part of my career journey. What I have found to be most impactful in my success was to support the bigger picture and to align with the organisations objectives, this is especially effective when it comes to decisions on where I spend time, energy, and budget.”

Thoughts on how to shatter the perceived glass ceiling.

Each year the corporate world welcomes a new generation of young female professionals who are eager to make their mark in the world. How can they achieve their goals in a shorter time span without compromising their values? Who or what is holding them back?

This is a generalization, but women create their own glass ceilings by how they view their value and their worth. We can be whatever we want to be, and it comes down to our self-perception and therefore how we show up in the world. Deep self-insight is key - the ability to engage with others at all levels and to meet and appreciate where others are at in their life story, is a skill to thriving.

Although glass ceilings can be dispelled, women should consider which technical and emotional elements they need to hone and harness as core skills for business, homes, and communities. We have innate abilities that are complementary to our male counterparts in business and are valuable to leadership and specialist roles. Firstly, to consider our self-limiting beliefs, paired with our technical capabilities we want to offer, our decisions around how to integrate our families,’ our judgement of when to ask for help and prioritsing mental health.

Follow the path by allowing yourself to go with the natural flow of unfolding events. Embrace challenges and new opportunities because by allowing yourself to be shifted from your place of comfort, you learn and grow. Be open to learning from every situation and ask yourself positive questions like, what happened and what was my contribution? What is useful here? What do I want? What can I learn? What is the other person thinking, feeling, needing, and wanting? What am I responsible for? What are they accountable for? What is possible? What are my choices? What is the best for now?

Key takeaway points:

  1. Perceived Glass Ceiling: Women can overcome this perception by maintaining determination, authenticity, and a focus on their unique journey to success.

  2. Individualized Paths to Success: Success and leadership are portrayed as unique and individualized for each person, pursuing your own path, staying true to personal values.

  3. Balance and Authenticity: Soft and strong can authentically co-exist, reflects the idea that women do not have to conform to rigid stereotypes in their career paths.

  4. Supporting Diverse Definitions of Success: Respect and support diverse definitions of success among female leaders.

  5. Alignment with Organisational Objectives: Aligning with an organization's objectives can be valuable for career decisions and resource allocation.

  6. Advice for New Female Professionals: Developing self-perception, self-insight, and embracing challenges and opportunities encourages women to hone both technical and emotional skills, consider self-limiting beliefs, and prioritize mental health.

  7. Positive Questions and Learning: Women can navigate their careers by asking positive questions and learning from every situation. Encourage self-reflection, responsibility, and adaptability in the face of challenges.


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