Breaking the Glass Ceiling: How Women Can Overcome Their Own Obstacles to Leadership

Breaking the Glass Ceiling: How Women Can Overcome Their Own Obstacles to Leadership

January 25, 2023

Being a strong supporter of women and their financial goals my entire life, I became a Financial Planner to make a difference in women’s lives. In this regard, I also became a leader, so I see the obstacles women face daily and I know all too well how how these challenges influence the finances of women. 

During my decades as a female financial advisor working with female clients, I know I’ve had an impact on how women think about money. The Real Value of Working with a Female Financial Advisor is that I know your challenges and how to address them. Through Financial Coaching, Retirement Planning, and Investment Management, my clients know their future is brighter. 

So today we are talking about how women face numerous external barriers when trying to become leaders. In addition, women often struggle with internalized biases and self-imposed limitations that prevent them from reaching leadership positions. 

This leads to a self-fulfilling prophecy of sorts where society sees high potential value in female leadership roles only to discover many candidates become their own worse enemies, often getting in their own way of advancement or success. 

Whatever the reason, this can be a detriment to many younger women as the mentors they wish to follow trip over unnecessary mental or emotional challenges instead of realizing their absolute power and abilities. 

External barriers to women's leadership 

There is no denying that we face numerous external barriers regarding leadership. Gender discrimination and bias continue to be pervasive in the workplace, and women often have fewer role models and mentors to look up to. These external barriers can create a self-fulfilling prophecy, as we may internalize the message that we are incapable of leadership and therefore do not try to pursue it. 

Discrimination occurs when an individual is treated differently because of race or gender. This can be overt or subtle, but it's not always intentional.  

Bias happens when we naturally favor certain people over others without realizing it. It can affect many aspects of our lives. For example, if you ask someone for directions based on their appearance, you're biased towards what a ‘good’ looking person looks like in your mind. Too often, we make assumptions about someone based on their gender identity, which isn't true for all members of the group they belong to. This is becoming more and more critical, given today’s fluidity toward gender. 

Women also face structural barriers related to a work culture that makes becoming leaders more complex than men. One key area where this is true is role modeling. Women who see other women occupying leadership positions are more likely to become leaders themselves! 

However, because fewer women hold leadership roles than men in most industries worldwide, there are fewer opportunities for young girls and women with ambition to be visible. Often, this is due to a lack of self-confidence by potential female industry leaders. 

Internalized biases and self-doubt 

In addition to external barriers, women also struggle with internalized biases that can hold us back from leadership. Societal messages about our competence and worth can be internalized, leading to self-doubt and a lack of confidence in our abilities. This self-doubt can manifest in various ways, such as hesitating to speak up in meetings or not pursuing leadership positions because we believe we are not qualified or ready. 

One common self-doubt thought that many women have "I'm not ready." This can be particularly damaging, as it prevents us from taking on new challenges or stepping outside our comfort zone. 

Another self-doubt that we may have is "I'm not qualified." This can lead to a lack of confidence in our skills and expertise, causing us to underestimate our capabilities. Even today, when we focus on empowerment, some of us may worry about being disliked or causing conflict if we speak up or assert ourselves, leading to the self-doubt thought, "I don't want to be disliked.” 

When you grow up in a society that constantly tells you that your gender is inferior to that of men, it’s understandable that you will begin to believe it. Internalized biases are the unconscious beliefs we form about ourselves based on what our environment has taught us.  

Studies have shown that women, especially those of us who have experienced sexual harassment or discrimination at work, tend to internalize negative stereotypes about our abilities as leaders and professionals, leading to a lack of strong women leadership when it is needed most. Or those that do break through these barriers often feel we do not deserve such rewards. 

The imposter syndrome influences leadership 

Another barrier that many high-achieving women face is imposter syndrome. This is a psychological phenomenon in which people feel like frauds and fear they will be exposed as incompetent, despite evidence to the contrary. Imposter syndrome can be particularly harmful in leadership roles, as it can cause women to doubt our decisions or second-guess our actions. 

This mental barrier is often fueled by a lack of confidence and a tendency to attribute success to external factors rather than one's own abilities. As a result, women may feel like we are not qualified or that we have only succeeded due to luck or the help of others. This can lead to a constant fear of being found out and a tendency to downplay accomplishments. 

We may believe we don't deserve opportunities or promotions because we haven't earned them yet. Or, we may feel like our male counterparts are more qualified than us, thus undeserving of the same opportunities. 

It cannot be repeated enough that women need to feel empowered and safe if we are going to risk asking for a raise or a promotion. 

The importance of self-confidence and self-promotion in women’s lives 

To overcome these internal barriers and achieve leadership success, it is crucial for women to build self-confidence and practice self-promotion. Self-confidence is essential for believing in one's abilities and advocating for oneself, while self-promotion is necessary for making others aware of one's accomplishments and values. 

It's a common misconception that confidence doesn't matter in the workplace. You've probably heard it before: "Fake it 'til you make it." The idea is that if you act as if you're competent and confident, eventually, others will believe it.  

But this advice can't be applied universally—not everyone can pull off this attitude without feeling like they're faking their way through life. If you aren't comfortable with your own confidence, then pretending to be confident while still feeling uncertain inside will only create more stress from thinking you are underqualified for leadership roles. 

Unfortunately, women are often socialized to be humble and modest, which can hold them back from speaking up about their achievements or advocating for themselves. To build self-confidence and practice self-promotion, women should: 

  • Set goals. Research has shown that setting specific and challenging goals helps to build self-confidence and keep you motivated.
  • Seek feedback. When working toward your goal, ask a trusted friend or colleague for honest feedback on how well you're doing concerning your objective.
  • Network with others working toward similar goals as yours and look for opportunities to learn from their experiences. If you're feeling stuck in an area of your career where there aren't many women, find out if any groups meet regularly in your city or town that support female leadership (for example, the National Association of Women Business Owners).
  • Be assertive: don't be afraid to ask for what you want! And if someone turns down one of your requests—even if it's just because they don't have enough time right now—make sure they know precisely why something isn't possible before moving on from that conversation. 
  • Get physical: This doesn’t mean get in amazing shape, though that doesn’t hurt. It means get out of your headspace for a bit and enjoy the psychological benefit of a 20 minute walk to clear your mind and refocus on your goals. 

It is also essential for us as women to recognize our value and worth and speak up about our accomplishments and skills rather than letting others take credit for our work. 

Wrapping it Up 

In the end, there is no reason to wait for things to improve on their own. Rather than feel helpless and hopeless in the face of these challenges, women should take action by becoming more confident and self-promoting. If you have ever felt like a victim of your own circumstances or doubted yourself, it's time to change that mindset. 

For years I have operated Meyers Financial Services, leading a team of dedicated professionals through a male-dominated industry with the goal of helping women find the education, support, and services needed to thrive and grow in wealth management. There has always been a glass ceiling for women-led financial services. Still, every year I see my team members shatter that barrier layer by layer as we enhance the capabilities of our clients. Hence, they become strong, financials secure community leaders. 

If you want to learn more about our services, please book a consultation with our team. Together, we can support your financial goals and help you reach a state of true self-confidence in your money management. 

Book a Call today and lets discuss your options

´╗┐Lillian Meyers CFP®, CDFA®, EA is a Financial Planner for Women in Sonoma, California helping clients live their best life through the use of financial planning, investment management, and other sophisticated financial options.