Glass-ceiling-proof your career

It’s an all-too-familiar tale. Serena makes rapid progress in the early days of her career, then for no apparent reason, her momentum stalls. Despite her desire to continue developing, she is unable to access a more senior role. In everyday language, we call this hitting the glass ceiling. What exactly does this term mean? Is it still relevant to professionals in today’s business world? And if so, what can we do when we hit the glass ceiling?


For many of us, the “glass ceiling” is a familiar concept. However, it is a relatively modern metaphor, having been first used in the 1980’s. Originally, the term was coined to describe the invisible barriers which prevented women from climbing the corporate ladder. Today, it is sometimes used in a broader sense, to describe barriers created by factors other than gender. The problem with these barriers is they are invisible and therefore difficult to pinpoint or manage. 

Removing glass ceilings is a complex task involving changing organisational and, indeed, social cultures. This article focuses on what you, as an individual potentially facing a glass ceiling environment, can do to prevent your career from reaching a dead end. The tips it contains are drawn from my work coaching senior women across a range of high-intellect industries. Therefore, they are based on principles of positive psychology and solution-focused thinking. 

Tip 1Expand your options. Always have at least two viable steps you can take next in your career. One of these should be a step taken within your organisation and the other should be one which leads to external opportunities. Remember that choices give you power and the ability to negotiate better conditions, salary packages, or development opportunities. You’re strengthened when you know you have a range of alternative career options to choose from. 

Tip 2: Know your walkaway point. This is a concept from negotiation theory. Basically, it means knowing the point at which a deal or situation is no longer viable. It’s important to have clarity around this in relation to your current position, because it provides a clear criterion for making decisions about whether to remain in your current role or move on. 

Tip 3: Build relationships outside of your current business. This provides you access to information about trends in your industry and possible job opportunities outside your organisation. Using this strategy successfully means building deep and/or lasting relationships. In other words, focus on quality, not quantity. Always remember the first rule of networking: add value to others rather than focusing on what you want from them. The aim of this strategy is to always have a strong network you can draw on. 

Tip 4Build a side hustle. This is a micro business based on an interest or hobby that you have outside your current role. Creating a side hustle allows you to develop new skills and knowledge. It also can provide additional income, which could become a safety net when you need to shift roles. The power of a side hustle is that it is completely within your own control and, therefore, provides a sense of empowerment should anything unexpected happen. 

Tip 5: Showcase your skills. Make sure people within your business and your network know what you’re good at. Keep your LinkedIn profile and CV up to date. When planning your professional development, focus on expanding your skills until they reach the status of being talents. Most importantly, master the art of talking confidently about what you do best.  

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About the author of these tips

Eleanor is passionate about bringing out the best in people at work.  She has been a trusted coach and trainer to thousands of professionals in high intellect fields. Eleanor is based in Sydney and has an international client base. Her expertise is in using social and emotional intelligence skills to build high performing leaders and teams. She is qualified in Social Anthropology, Applied Psychology, Adult Education and Neuro Linguistic Programming.