Advance Performance | BBC’s 100 Women Campaign: Breaking the Glass Ceiling
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BBC’s 100 Women Campaign: Breaking the Glass Ceiling

BBC’s 100 Women Campaign: Breaking the Glass Ceiling

This month, the BBC’s 100 Women project is taking on four challenges to change lives and prospects of women and girls – breaking the cycle of female illiteracy in Delhi, improving safety for women on public transport in London, challenging sexism in sport in Rio de Janeiro, and during this past week, four women have been tackling the issue of women breaking the glass ceiling in Silicon Valley.

The #TeamLead challenge is to establish an innovation for women to smash through the glass ceiling in Silicon Valley which will be reported today on the @BBC100women social media and update page on the BBC website. The project has included debates, brainstorming sessions, speakers, podcasts and articles by women in business who have been breaking through the negative perceptions and obstacles faced by women each day in their careers.

One of the women who participated was Marilyn Loden who said that she is delighted that women are seeking solutions to tackle the glass ceiling rather than just acknowledging its existence. It is almost 40 years since Marilyn Loden gave the speech introducing the term “glass ceiling” at a similar conference the Women at Work Exposition in Manhattan concerning women’s advancement in business. As a leading expert in management change to support and leverage diversity in organisations. She establishes programmes so that whole companies can build a culture of inclusion and enable individuals to achieve their potential.

Although equality in the workplace has improved in the past four decades, there continue to be a number of challenges which have not been solved.  The gender pay gap is still a well known issue – as highlighted at the BBC itself by a recent report. The number of women business leaders is still a huge gap from the males as reported in Fortune in June 2017:

As of 2017, there are 32 female CEOs on the list, meaning that 6.4% of the U.S.’s biggest companies (by revenue) are run by women. This is the highest proportion of female CEOs in the 63-year history of the Fortune 500.

The women run a diverse range of companies—from consumer goods behemoths like PepsiCo to defense contractors like Lockheed Martin—but they are, predominantly, white. At the moment, just two names on the list are women of color: Geisha Williams of PG&E Corporation (PCG, +0.28%) and Indra Nooyi of PepsiCo (PEP, -0.02%) . None are African American.”

6.4% of the Fortune 500 companies in the US have a female CEO. If you look down the list, you probably know almost all the names because these women are so rare in having reached their leadership positions.

As Marilyn Loden has expressed, the acceptance of the glass ceiling, the normalisation of the gender gap continues to be a fixed idea by many people so that there appears to be only a small number of women publicly battling to be at the top. As this project has progressed this week, one issue has become central – the confidence gap, and this is a subject which we all have the ability to change. Columbia Business School in New York reports that this is a general divide between males and females.

Males tend to overestimate their abilities by around 30%. Women generally underestimate their abilities – their perception of what they are worth is less than the reality as opposed to males whose perception tends to be higher than their actual abilities. This confidence gap leads to women trying for fewer promotions, not taking on opportunities, and therefore, increases the pay gap.

So how can we deal with this confidence gap as a whole?

Katty Kay from the BBC, who is participating in #TeamLead says “Closing the confidence gap means being honest about your abilities, not constantly undervaluing them.”

As we discuss on our Advance courses, we need to change our core beliefs in order to change our general attitude which leads to a change in behaviour. We are all individually controlling our beliefs in how we perceive women in leadership, and this is the case for being inclusive for race or disabilities in being inclusive. We are all responsible for closing this confidence gap in ourselves and in others. Four key ways we can start to close the confidence gap today:

  • Step out of our comfort zone, and volunteer for a project, speak up in a meeting, or apply for that promotion.
  • Set ourselves SMART goals to enable us to measure our success in improving skills quantitatively so that we can measure our confidence development.
  • Highlight our abilities which we want to improve confidence in, and pursue a course, find a mentor, or ask for experience to build that confidence.
  • Mix with other role models that we aspire to be: start a network group with peers to build mutual confidence, skills and experience.

Every time one individual takes the risk to pursue that promotion, to present a proposal for a new innovation to their board, to add their name to be considered for election, that person is stepping out of their comfort zone and gaining confidence in their true abilities rather than undermining them.

We may not be able to change the perceptions of everyone in Silicon Valley in a week, but by actively taking that step today, we are enabling individuals to close the confidence gap and bring more diversity to industry and society as a whole.

Our director, Heather Wright is leading a webinar for CIMA on How to deal with difficult conversations on Thursday 12th October. You can register to take part here: