Glass ceiling: myth or reality?

November 7th, 2011

There is no doubt that women are still underrepresented in the Boardroom and that the pay gap between men and women remains firmly in place, and indeed has widened in recent years. The existence of a glass ceiling has often been used to explain this, but is there evidence to support it’s existance or are other factors influencing this?

I was speaking recently at the CHC Conference in Cardiff where this topic was the subject matter of one the sessions. Asset Skills has recently undertaken a survey into why women are still underrepresented at senior levels in the Housing Association sector. The results of the survey did not generally support the existence of a glass ceiling but there was evidence that women lacked the confidence to put themselves forward for Board positions.

Immediately following the conference (in the hotel bar no less) I met a lady who was planning to come back into the workplace after a career break. She expressed real reservations and considered herself to be in a weak position compared to her male counterparts who would not have had a career break. Despite mine and others best efforts to convince her that she had just as much to offer if not more, I sensed the lack of confidence remained.

A few days later I came across an article in the Harvard Business Review which also suggested that women lack confidence compared to male colleagues. This article referred to research having been undertaken by reviewing performance assessments. In particular, “Having combed through more than a thousand 360-degree performance assessments conducted in recent years, we’ve found, by a wide margin, that the primary criticism men have about their female colleagues is that the women they work with seem to exhibit low self-confidence.”

This could be explained partly as a perception issue as  it was also observed that men sometimes interpret (or misinterpret) an inclination in women to share credit or defer judgment as a lack of confidence.  However other studies have come to similar conclusions.  A 2011  study published by the Europe’s Institute of Leadership and Management revealed that women report having lower confidence than men with regard to their careers:

  • Men were more confident across all age groups, with 70% of males having high or very high levels of self-confidence, compared to 50% of the women surveyed.
  • Half of women managers admitted to feelings of self-doubt about their performance and career, but only 31% of men reported the same.
  • The study also found that this lack of confidence extends to a more cautious approach to applying for jobs and promotions: 20% of men said they would apply for a role despite only partially meeting its job description, compared to 14% of women.

I have been fortunate not to suffer from a lack of confidence in my career but experience and these surveys clearly demonstrate that many other women do. Coaching and mentoring could be of real assistance here. It is clearly not a question of capability but a need to help change some thinking and behaviours to improve levels of confidence both real and perceived. For further information about my coaching and  mentoring services please refer to my website

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The report was very professional, it dealt with all the issues raised and was particularly thorough. It clearly took the time to fully understand all of the issues and background. It was complex but the report really helped to break it down and I’m hoping we can progress in a positive manner following the recommendations.

Group HR Manager, Energy Sector |

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