Taking Our Place: Glass Ceiling or Thatched Roof

I just finished Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide. The title comes from the Chinese adage “Women hold up half the sky.” A day or two after finishing the book, I watched the TED talk “Why We Have Too Few Women Leaders” by Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook. It was when she made the first point in her talk–take a seat at the table–that I saw how clearly our acculturation binds us to unwritten rules whether I am a woman aspiring to the C-suite or a woman trying to provide scarce food for my family.

Sandberg advises aspiring women to take a seat at the table and not sit off to the side. A high percentage of men, for example, “take their seat” by negotiating their salaries or claiming their authority and contributions where women would tend to demur.

The commonality between all women (and men too) is the powerful influence of our acculturation. Family is the strongest cultural influence. But it is not the only one. Other strong influences include our socioeconomic community, our nationality, the organizations we are part of, etc. We know when we are about to step outside some invisible zone of permission that our culture has established, and many of the rules creating that zone are gender-based. I know and feel it, and I am betting you do, too.

Nike tells us “just do it”–and we have. We might have been the first in our family to have a college degree, to have a professional career, to earn more than our spouse, or we might be one among a handful of women to achieve leadership status in a given field. We might have dared leave our hut without our husband’s permission, or taken a micro-loan and started a business to earn our very own money for the first time.

Even if we accumulate a series of firsts where we dared challenge the boundaries of that invisible zone, we can still hesitate when confronted with the next one. I invite you to be kind to yourself when you notice your hesitation. It’s your attunement to things unwritten and has biological roots in survival, where not belonging is dangerous. For women in the developed world, of course, “survival” is metaphorical, and not taking our seat when we are aspiring to the next leadership role likely does not mean the difference between our children having or not having food. For women in developing countries, however, it can mean life or death–theirs or their children’s.

I encourage you to be aware of what’s at play when you hesitate to dare, and I encourage you to take action with a greater, deeper strength–even when it seems you are doing it, yet again, for the first time. I encourage you to be inspired by all that you have dared before and by the strength of women who might be half a world away, who might not be able to read and write, but who dare taking their seat at the table. We all, then–men and women–can more fully take our place in the world under a full sky.


U.S. Library of Congress ISSN 2164-7240

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