Growing up always with a female figure as the breadwinner and head of the household, the concept of female inequality was never anywhere in my mind. To me truly that did not exist. Having strong female role models shaped my life and made me the person I am today, a strong and ultra- independent female. I never really saw much that glass ceiling as much of an obstacle because of the examples in my life, but being in the workplace for the past seven years has taught me a lot about how the world works.
I began to learn that although women have gone far to establish their place in society, things were not as it seemed. That is when I began to remember the stories my mother use to tell me, of having to change her own personality to fit into a men’s world, changing her mindset and manners to adapt, “toughing it up” she called it. Although we make up half of the work force, only about 14 percent of women have executive-level positions. What can we actually do to empower ourselves? What will it take to really get there? I compiled a few steps that are helpful for anyone, regardless of gender.
The first step is to admit to yourself that there is a glass ceiling. A lot of people, such as myself, often believe there isn’t one, and becomes comfortable with that idea. The truth is, there is still built-in obstacles for women in the workplace, the result of a society that for years saw women as housewives and stay-at-home mothers. Women as nurturers and not providers is a difficult idea to break, although women have been an integral part of the workforce for years. We have to face that we still need to deal with this stereotype and try to break it.
The second step is to have a plan. You can’t get anywhere if you do not know where you are going. Make sure to know where you want to get to professionally. Envision what you want in the next 2, 5, 10, 15 years, whether it’s within your current employer or another organization.
Third: learn to market yourself. Make sure you are presentable. Work hard, be timely, don’t allow what you do to go unnoticed. If you are not having meetings with your supervisor, make sure to ask for them. This gives you a chance to understand what you are doing right, and what you are doing wrong, as well as give you a chance to ask how to do things better. Then, speak up. Address any problems, concerns, or any ideas you have. Supervisors appreciate initiative from employees, which again helps to market you as an efficient employee, who is passionate about the organization.
Fourth step: build your network. Get to know those in your organization, or in others that you may want to work for in the future. Networking is extremely important. It can open doors you may not even expect. It can be a learning tool for your about the organization you work for and helps to build support. Being known helps to keep your name in someone’s mind, and when a position opens up the may think of you.
Fifth: find a mentor. Get someone in the organization or in a different organization higher up the ranks that can give you advice, maybe someone that was in a similar place as yourself. They have the experience of building themselves from the bottom up. They can give you insights about how to ascend professionally.
Sixth step: develop skills. Do not remain stagnant. If you want to break through that glass ceiling, make sure to improve yourself. If you want to be a better manager, take a class on management or read a book on best practices. If you want to have better computer skills do the same, or find a friend who can spare some time to teach you. Sometimes the best lessons can come from people whom we know and who have more knowledge, so do not discard peers as tools for skill development. Positions that require more responsibility also require more skills, which mean learning is necessary. Do not expect to ascend to a position if your skills are not up to par.
All these steps and many others must be taken into consideration. I do believe that as a female, there are still ways to break this cycle. It may be a bit harder. But glass can be broken, so let’s make sure to hit it enough times, and not get cut on the way through.
Luanna Azulay lives in the Moishe House in Williamsburg and is pursuing a degree in Public Administration at NYU’s Wagner School. Born and raised in Recife, Brazil, she can make some mean mufletas.