May 20, 2014

    Steely grit needed to break the glass ceiling

    LIZ is an educated, attractive, lucid woman.

    At 23, she decided to make herself the top woman in advertising in the Western world. She got to know the advertising leaders in London, France, Germany, Italy and New York.

    Her method was simple - she asked questions about matters she needed to discover to make her understand how advertising worked.

    Why one creative director thought an advertisement was a good ad while another did not was fast-track learning for Liz. She learnt more about the person expressing the view than the advertisement itself.

    Knowledge of why people think the way they do was valuable.

    Once in a position of hiring, she was well equipped to "read" job candidates.

    Mary was well educated too. Smartly dressed and smiling, she was described as "warm" by people. She listened.

    Youngsters who got into trouble went to her for advice.

    Her kindly demeanour came from how she approached people. She was just as smart as Liz, sometimes even better dressed.

    She was ambitious to learn about business, rise to the top, then start a company of her own.

    She realised fashion is a hard world but she decided to aim for "the rag trade". She had the brains for it.

    She made connections and got to know top-class couturiers by their first names.

    Liz became head of a well-known advertising service company.

    Living prudently, she managed to acquire shares in the business. When her older partner retired, she became the chief executive officer, remaining there until she, too, wanted to retire. She sold her business for a fortune.

    Mary rose rapidly in the fashion world. She attended all the main fashion shows and knew everyone who was anyone. Friend and confidante to all, she was reliable, charming, kind.

    As a personal assistant (PA) to a famous fashion designer, she was highly paid and the envy of many.

    But for all her success, Mary remained a PA, never breaking through the glass ceiling.

    What made one of these women head of a business, and the other a senior and well-paid employee but just a PA? Both had a plan, a purpose, a Tree on the other side of the Field. Both were educated, smart, clever and charming.

    They shared much in common. Yet one reached where the other could not. Why?

    Ruthless is not a word to be associated with but look behind the social meaning and see how some ruthlessness is vital to breaking the glass ceiling.

    Desire, ambition, charm, good communication skills and the ability to get people's trust are essential to get to be "boss".

    Both women had those - both were kind, helping the young, caring for weaker team members.

    Liz had singleness of purpose - to reach the top. Not at any price or ignoring good behaviour towards others, but reach the top she was determined to do.

    Mary had multiple purposes - being liked, making social contributions beyond work and being a shoulder to cry on.

    Liz "read" those she met to advance her own career, as well as her colleagues'. Mary "empathised" with everyone, helping with their immediate needs.

    Ask yourself eight questions about these two women. Which one…

    Made the bigger contribution to the welfare of those they met and worked with?

    Would you rather work with?

    Would you rather employ if you were a boss?

    Would you rather be?

    Would you marry if you were a man?

    Has the most relaxed retirement?

    Will live the longest?

    Has, on balance, been happiest?

    No right answers, but your answers will tell you if you will break the glass ceiling, while remaining a decent human being.

    They will tell you more than that if you think about them.

    The writer is chairman, CEO and founder mentor of Terrific Mentors International (, a group of skilled mentors with significant management experience who share a passion for "reviving balance sheets by restoring human spirits".