The mythical "glass ceiling" for women

The longer I'm in the business world, the more I believe that there is no such thing as a "glass ceiling" for women. At one time, I think it did exist. Women had few choices in the workplace in the 1950's and 1960's, and often had to pick between being a teacher, a nurse, or a secretary. It was rare for women to be in high-powered positions.

So of course, it has taken time for women to get the opportunity to have the same jobs and same pay as men. And I think we've been there for a while. Women have every opportunity that men do, and it's up to them to take advantage of it.

The Milwaukee Business Journal did a story last week that was promoted on its front page with the tag: "Thick Glass Ceiling." (subscription required) The story lamented the fact that of the 100 highest-paid executives at Milwaukee area public companies, only six were women. I have a hard time understanding, though, how the reporter can suggest that this number is proof of a glass ceiling.

Does this number prove that there's wide-scale discrimination against women? Or does it instead prove that women haven't done what it takes to get to the top? It's rather popular to speak out for women's rights and to say that women should be "given opportunities" to be CEOs and CFOs. I completely disagree. Women should earn those opportunities. And they can earn them, as proven by those who already have.

I own my own company, and I work primarily with men. My clients are generally partners at law firms, and the number of women in those positions is low (but steadily increasing). In my eight years in business, I can honestly say that I never felt discriminated against because I was a woman. I never felt that I wasn't awarded work because I was a woman. (In fact, there are a few cases that I got because I was a woman!)

Oh sure, there's an occasional sexist comment or reference made. But I've never been made to feel that I'm anything "less" than my competitors just because I'm female. My clients recognize the hard work and sacrifice I put into my business, and I've been rewarded because of it. I didn't need anyone to "give" me an opportunity, because I've always earned it.

I'm all for fairness in the workplace. I just don't buy that women are being discriminated against on a wide scale and being held down by some glass ceiling. I don't buy that women aren't being paid enough. If they think they're worth more, they should demand more money or go get a job that pays them more. The market will decide if they're worth more.

I think the glass ceiling is an imaginary concept that no longer exists, and is merely an excuse. It makes for good sound bites and discussion, but this isn't an issue that we need to spend time lamenting, because it really isn't an issue except in some rare cases.

Women have never had it better in the workplace, and there have never been more opportunities available to them. They can compete in the marketplace for whatever positions they want, and the marketplace will decide if they're qualified. Want to be a C-level executive? Stay in the workforce, work extremely hard, and work toward jobs that will give you the necessary skills and experience to be a CFO or CEO. Want to work part-time hours? Find a job that offers you part-time hours, but don't complain that your career isn't keeping up with the group of people who were once your peers.

It's all about figuring out what you want and doing the work it takes to get there. And complaining about an imaginary glass ceiling doesn't get you very far. It only takes time and effort away from the work women should be doing to get the experience and qualifications needed to move up.

Tracy L. Coenen, CPA, MBA, CFE performs fraud examinations and financial investigations for her company Sequence Inc. Forensic Accounting, and is the author of Essentials of Corporate Fraud.
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