How to Reach the Top in a Male-Dominated Business Culture
By John Patrick Dolan
know the business world no longer belongs to men. In the late
eighties, women started entering corporate management and have
continued to increase their participation through the years. But the
glass ceiling still exists, and women must face challenges in
advancement that men usually don’t have to concern themselves with.
to a Catalyst survey from 2002, women must overcome male stereotyping
and preconceptions, exclusion from informal networks of communication,
and their lack of significant general management experience if they
want to advance into upper management positions.
have experienced some of these challenges in your own career. But
these barriers can be broken. Keep in mind; it’s a glass
ceiling…not cement. When you understand and prepare yourself for
these challenges, you can earn the executive position you’ve been
striving to reach.
any of these common roadblocks to advancement, try the following
Abandon the Secretarial Perspective:
often enter the corporate world at the secretarial level, which
requires them to handle detail-oriented tasks that save the boss from
disaster. But when you move from middle management to top management,
you may need to shift your focus from details to the big picture. Top
managers can’t be concerned with typing reports and filing data, or
even product development or sales campaigns. They must focus on the
women are perfectly capable of managing the grand strategy, they often
allow their detail-oriented mindset to carry over from past roles.
With this detail mindset in place, you may also find it difficult to
hand the details off to someone else and hold them accountable for
minding them. If you want to be considered for an upper level
management position, you must approach your supervisors with
big-picture ideas and insights.
Respect the Male Egos:
don’t respond well to bullying from other men, and they’re even
less likely to be positively influenced by such tactics from a woman.
The object is not to demonstrate your superiority to your peers and
subordinates, but rather to influence them to join you in advancing
the interests of the company.
conflicts arise, the key is to address issues, not personalities. Be
clear in what you want, and don’t back off timidly. Directly state
your position, rather than using subtle hints. Let your associates
know that you respect them, but let them know what you expect of them
Look for the Tough Tasks:
way to convince your male superiors that you’re ready for more
responsibility is to demonstrate your ability to handle the hard jobs.
You know you are skilled and capable, so give yourself full credit for
the assets you can offer your organization. Whenever you have the
opportunity to volunteer for the tough tasks, jump at the chance.
you’ve done this a few times and demonstrated your capacity, you
won’t have to volunteer. The company will know they can turn to you,
and will reward you for your reliability in a pinch.
Find an Influential Mentor: Some
companies pair new employees with more experienced ones in formal
mentoring programs. But in others, informal relationships form. These
mentoring relationships can be between two people of the same sex or
between people of different genders as long as the relationships
remain business in nature.
male mentor may be able to teach a woman protégé the ins and outs of
the organization and serve as her advocate for advancement, a woman
mentor may have more insight into the challenges women face in
climbing the corporate ladder. Essentially, you’ll be one step ahead
with the help and guidance of a mentor, whether that mentor is a man
or a woman.
Be a Horse, Not a Mule:
smart and hard-working, but they don’t compete like horses. While
horses like to push themselves against competitors to win races, mules
don’t like to see their fellow mules lagging behind. That’s why
horses get all the glamorous, high-profile racing assignments and
mules end up pulling supply wagons.
sometimes drop out of competition for promotion, deferring to a man
because, “He has a family to support.” But in the business world,
the higher positions go to the best-qualified person who wants the job
bad enough to compete for it.
Take Intelligent Risks:
who wants to move into management must also abandon the traditional
role of keeper of the nest and move into a more adventurous posture.
In other words, she must be ready to take some intelligent risks.
who keeps a low profile will inevitably be overlooked at the
line-management entrance. Therefore you must think creatively and
voice your ideas. If you want to move into a position responsible for
profit and loss, you must be willing to analyze challenges, identify
opportunities, devise strategies, and see them through. A can-do
spirit will open doors to advancement.
Network Toward the Top:
is a powerful tool for women who want to climb to the top, and you
must be alert for opportunities to meet and know the people who can
help their careers. A good place to look for these opportunities is in
other women who’ve made it to the top, as many of them have hit the
glass ceiling and branched out to form their own successful companies
as a result. But don’t limit yourself to women. After all, most of
the top decision-makers are still men, and women executives will have
to navigate primarily in male-majority environments for the
don’t limit your networking efforts to your own company. Outside
your organization, conferences, trade shows, and seminars are great
places to meet other people in your field, and they may be able to
steer you toward job openings, business opportunities, or other means
Barriers in the Future:
advancement is an uphill climb for men and women, it’s steeper for
women. It shouldn’t be, but it is. Before a woman can enjoy the
satisfaction of making major decisions, negotiating business deals,
and exerting her influence over an organization, she must overcome
many relic obstacles of the “man’s business world.” When you use
these strategies for overcoming the barriers to success, you can prove
your worthiness for upper management-level positions and break through
the glass ceiling without looking back.
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