Redefining the Glass Ceiling Paul Gale-Baker — Who's Running Your Business

Redefining the Glass Ceiling Paul Gale-Baker - Who's Running Your Business

Redefining the Glass Ceiling

Many women say that the glass ceiling holds them back significantly in their profession. This ceiling is composed of many different elements, from entrenched negative beliefs about womens abilities to continuing discomfort in some quarters at women appearing in roles formerly filled by men.

There is unquestionably serious occupational discrimination against women in Australia. The majority of women are employed in occupations with primarily female workers. Relatively few women are in positions of leadership, so that the few who are stand out and can give a distorted picture of the reality. Quite rightly, dealing with the problem has lead to a focus on external measures to redress the gender imbalance.When attempting to deal with the limitations to women advancing into leadership positions, most attention goes to external factors. Quotas are set, rules are rewritten and other affirmative actions are taken, or at least paid lip service.

There is nothing wrong with focusing on the externals The struggle to have women equal participants in work, government and society generally, requires strong, society-wide responses of various sorts. Elements of the glass ceiling are highly visible, and need to be attacked in a highly visible way.

Despite the many positive steps to a more level gender playing field, many women experience obstacles to achieving the positions they want. Even where there are positive measures in place to encourage women to step up, this often doesnt happen. Often if women do reach leadership positions, they often hampered by a feeling that they are not performing to the best of their ability.

Unfortunately many women are beset by learned messages which are internalised, psychologically, as a voice or part of themselves which cannot be ignored. For many women I have worked with, this internalisation process is so complete that they are unaware of the voice it shows itself more as a feeling of being stuck or blocked. Where there is a lack of awareness of these messages, their impact is all the greater on the person.

For women, the most powerful example of this process is a voice that has been called the Inner Patriarch. As the name suggests, it is the internalisation of the patriarchal messages that women hear in the outside world. The term was originally coined by Dr Sidra Stone, one of two originators of the Voice Dialogue method of psychological growth and has proven extremely useful in understanding the issue. You can read more about Voice Dialogue at Voice Dialogue Australia.

This internal voice can have a devastating impact on a woman. Imagine, if you can, all the negative, sexist, patronising and  patriarchal messages you have ever heard. Imagine these messages condensed into a single, authoritative voice (the Inner Patrarch is always authoritative), and you have an idea of how great an impact this set of messages can have.

I have worked with many women who have addressed this part of themselves. what I have learned is that the messages it has are surprisingly consistent and to some extent predictable from person to person. Most womens Inner Patriarchs believe that women have little or no place in the business world. It sees home and the family as a womans real place. Even when the Patriarch accepts the woman will work, it usually has a belief that she wont amount to much. The Inner Patriarchal voice is especially skilled at having women believe they have to lead like a man, if they are to be successful.

The Inner Patriarch doesnt work on its own and thrives on complementary messages from the outside. It is particularly effective at echoing the messages from men in the workplace. It is surprising how many women in executive positions are expected to make the coffee when there is a group of men. It is equally surprising how many women comply or feel the impulse to do so often no-one, including the woman herself, noticing. This picture is repeated across a range of activities and occupations.

One of the problems with a voice such as this, is that it is quite at home with women who have strong feminist views. Far from discouraging the Inner Patriarch, this seems to set up an internal conflict which often adds to the difficulty and stuckness.

Together with other negative voices, the Inner Patriarch can limit a womans effectiveness in the workplace. It can affect her belief in her own abilities, have her present less confidently and be less effective in her leadership role. Very importantly, it can affect her physical voice. For more on the role of the internalised voices on the physical voice, go to Sandra Baigels excellent website Voice & Word

Break the Rules Find Your Leadership Voice, is a program for leaders and managers who want to develop an authentic, influential leadership voice. We work with the internal or psychological voice.

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Of course men are not immune from the influence of internalised messages from family and culture. I will look at the companion voice in men the Inner Matriarch in a later Blog post.

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