If you Google images for “CEO” you’ll get images of men, predominantly. And this is considered ‘normal’, backed by statistics about the ‘leaking pipeline’ when the numbers of women in the workplace start dwindling as they get into more senior roles.
Family commitments is often cited as the cause irrespective of where you are in your career. At a junior level, starting a family means that you either stay at home to look after your family because you can’t afford it, or pass-through pretty much your entire salary on to childcare. When you’re in middle-management you pass on opportunities that can get you to the next level because that means more hours or time away from family or you’re not offered that promotion because you’re seen as unreliable or not really part of the team (as a result of tough choices made by placing one’s family first). If you’ve made it to the senior level you’re either seen as insensitive or too masculine and the amount of family time that can be secured is questionable.
Either way, the lack of women in the workforce is a problem. There are solutions, but mindsets need to change. More importantly, it’s the men who need to be having these conversations.
I had the privilege of being given a stage to voice my opinion at a panel on “shattering the glass ceiling” at the Female Futures Forum 2017, an event alongside the Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week. Throughout the day all speakers echoed the same sentiments, articulated the importance of having higher female participation and the need to actively work towards it. My opening message touched on three things that I think are important in our journey of inclusion.
- Professional support: Figuring out what works for your organization or your type of work and implementing it. What works at LIRNEasia is our flexible culture and a child-friendly room. And while a lot of organizations gravitate towards these types of solutions (if any), in Sri Lanka, we need to think of other creative options that work for the type of organization or sector you’re in
- Empathy and mindsets: Funny story, someone referring to my part-time arrangement as being “something to just keep yourself occupied” – because, after a baby, I really yearned for something extra to keep myself “occupied” (not). But this goes on to show that part-time work is deemed less worthy or is not considered appropriate if you’re on a serious career path.
- Empowering men: The conversations seem to be about women, by women, to women. See the problem? As Sheryl Sandberg said, “the most important career choice you’ll make is who you marry” – this should not be the case.
At the end of this spiel and just as I was handing over the mic to the next panelist the moderator asked me “So have you broken the glass ceiling” – and in an instant, also knowing I was out of time, I said “Yes, I believe so”. But what I really wanted to say was, “What glass ceiling?”.