Breaking Through the Other Glass Ceiling – Your Ego!


A recent McKinsey report quoted in the Wall Street Journal states that only 11 chief executives of Fortune 500 companies are women, down from a peak of 15 in 2010. Likewise, in her TED talk (see video below) Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg enumerates the woeful lack of women in top positions around the globe. Sandberg places some of the responsibility for this on women themselves, rather than on external forces such as sexism. She says, “Women systemically underestimate their own abilities.”

I agree. As an executive coach to top-level women in corporate America, I see first-hand highly intelligent and competent female leaders sabotaging themselves by not stepping into their power.

It pains me to hear my women clients tell me how exhausted they are from banging their heads against the executive suite wall. Often the only woman in the room, they claim they don’t feel heard, don’t feel their opinion is taken seriously, or worse, ignored. One client recently lamented, “I feel like I was invited to the club, but no one told me what to wear, how to behave, or what the secret password is.”

What many of these women don’t see is how their anxieties create behaviors that bring about exactly what they fear most. I’m not saying there aren’t problems with the system that need to be fixed. But I do know that by changing our own behaviors and reactions we can have a powerful impact on transforming the system.

Here are three of the most common challenges I see women needing to overcome when working in a male-dominated workplace:

Challenge # 1

“I don’t feel heard, they don’t value my opinion.”

The underlying egosystem issue:

Fear that what we say is wrong or not going to be taken seriously can cause women to communicate in a way that disempowers them. Too often we find ourselves apologizing before and after our statements. I have heard clients say, “I may not know what I am talking about here, but…” This statement sets you up to not be taken seriously from the start.


Take the risk to be bold, even if you’re wrong. Speak more directly and in bullets without the pre- and post-amble, which discredits everything between. Being straightforward garners respect.

Challenge # 2

“I have to be as tough as they are, or they won’t take me seriously.”

The underlying egosystem issue:

I’m afraid if I’m vulnerable and say what I really feel in a meeting they’ll think I’m weak and unprofessional and my chances for advancement will be shot.


Sorry to break the news, but we are women. We have intuitive hunches and get emotional about things. These are not “inferior” qualities. These are gifts that can actually help us to be more effective if used with integrity. I have seen women let their guard down and say what they really felt in a meeting and change the entire energy of the room, all thanks to their vulnerability.

Caveat: 90% of my clients are men, and I remind them that having intuitive hunches and getting emotional about things isn’t just a feminine trait. By bringing forth these attributes, which are more typically assigned to the “feminine,” they can be better leaders.

Challenge #3

They are undermining me. They want to sabotage me. I can never get ahead here.”

The underlying egosystem issue:

I’m afraid to be fully in my power, and rather than having the courage to step into the ring and go toe-to-toe, I will play the victim and blame others.


I constantly hear women say how they feel excluded, undermined, sabotaged, neglected and passed over, but blaming the system won’t change that. In most cases these women are contributing to their own reality by their unexamined beliefs/interpretations.

I coach a lot of men and I can tell you they really do want to hear what we as women think and feel, and they would be hurt if they knew we often feel undermined by them. Most of the men we work with are in fact not out to get us, but want to support our success. They just may not know how.

The key is to be honest about what is going on inside, instead of holding it in and venting about it elsewhere. Be willing to point out where you feel excluded or uninvited, in a direct, non-threatening, non-victim way. Trust your analysis and your intuition and speak from there.

We interpret our world through our filters and beliefs. If we can believe that others really do want us to succeed and are there to support us, if we can trust that ultimately we have something valuable and important to contribute, and if we can change our own behaviors in alignment with those beliefs to break through the glass ceilieng of our ego, we can make a tremendous impact for ourselves and others.

How have you been holding yourself back from stepping into your own power? We would love to hear your comments and experiences.

TED talk from Sheryl Sandberg.

  1. Gatsy says:

    A good many valaubels you’ve given me.

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