Glass Ceilings Aren’t Holding Us Back… It’s Old Habits and Misused Gears

By Susan Ford Collins

Did you ever wonder why women… without whom none of us would be here and none of our progeny would be either… are so under-recognized in our history and under-paid in our economy?

How many male corporate heads can you name quickly? Jeff Bezos, Mark Zuckerberg, Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Jeffrey R. Immelt, Rupert K. Murdoch, Leslie Moonves (Oops, he’s a man.). How many female corporate heads come to mind? Carly Fiorina, Sheryl Sandburg… why is this question so much harder?

Even going by a male name can give a woman an advantage. Outstanding writers have used pen names… male or ambiguous names… so their femaleness wouldn’t get in the way. Mary Ann Evans, the author of Silas Marner, called herself George Eliot, while Amantine-Lucile-Aurore Dupin called herself George Sand. And, just in case you think this only happened in the past, J.K. Rowling, author of the fabulously successful Harry Potter series, was told by her publisher to use her initials instead of her first name (Joanne Kathleen) because boys wouldn’t read a book by a woman!

Today women lead top major corporations and create billion dollar startups, but most people still unconsciously think “a woman’s place is in the home.” But now, “a man’s place is in the home” too! And we’re trying to figure out how to divvy up the responsibilities to everyone’s advantage… especially our kids!

To succeed, a society has three gear-like functions

1st Gear is for starting and restarting… new lives, new skills, new methods and technologies. Familiar 1st Gear keywords are: safe, dangerous, right, wrong, good, bad, can, can’t, should, shouldn’t, have to, must, always, never, possible, impossible… words we remember hearing our mothers and fathers using! (Keep in mind, the word familiar comes from the word family.)

2nd Gear is producing and competing, for providing enough goods and services to meet everyone’s needs now and in the future. 2nd Gear keywords are: more, better, faster, cheaper, quantity, quality, win, lose, deadlines and profits.

In today’s money-oriented, fast-paced business arena, most of us spend most of our time accelerating in 2nd so it’s hard to slow down to listen, or to imagine another way. But, every once in a while, a creative thinker, male or female, comes along and introduces breakthroughs.

3rd Gear is for creating and innovating, for supporting new ideas, methods, and approaches, new products, businesses and technologies so we can prosper now and in the future. 3rd Gear keywords include: aha, discover, create, invent, innovate, and startup.

Historically we’ve thought of women as mothers, teachers and nurses, so even today, we don’t immediately picture women leading boardroom meetings, or heading billion dollar startups, entertainment and government entities, but they are! Marissa A. Mayer is president and CEO of Yahoo!; Sheryl Sandburg is COO of Facebook; Janet Napolitano is Secretary of Homeland Security; Margaret Hamburg is Commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration; And Oprah is a multi-billion dollar entertainment mogul.

Lesser-known women inventors have made our lives easier and safer. Marion Donovan created disposable diapers; Patsy Sherman devised Scotchgard to repel stains on fabrics; Mary Anderson invented windshield wipers; and movie star Hedy Lamarr co-invented a “Secret Communications System” to stop the Nazis.

What produced these drastic changes? It was nothing less than war

With our men fighting in Europe and Asia, women went to work in factories and, took over their positions temporarily, like the fictionalized Rosie the Riveter. After the war, returning soldiers, backed by the GI Bill, cranked out The American Dream.… with a home for everyone and more children than usual to fill them, plus washers, dryers, refrigerators, cars, TVs instead of radios, and stay-at-home moms. Then in 2008, the housing boom slowed and The Great Recession pushed male-oriented manufacturing jobs overseas… to China and India. Wives went back to work again to stabilize family incomes… leaving displaced men at home, unprepared, and frequently unwilling, to take on 1st gear childcare, cooking and homecare.

Societal gears needed to shift but they didn’t

“It’s not my job” is a hangover from the homemaker-breadwinner/”Father Knows Best” division of labor many men were brought up on and still unconsciously expect their wives to provide… even though their wives’ lives have changed drastically.

Struggles and resistances led to divorces and divided families, and the number of single mothers accelerated. In 2011, there were 13.7 million single parents in the U.S. raising 22 million children. But contrary to stereotypes, 76% of custodial single mothers are gainfully employed. According to the U.S. Census, poverty isn't the norm for most single parent families, even though custodial single mothers and their kids are twice as likely to live in poverty as the general population.

Today 50 % of women work outside the home. And 40% of working women are the primary breadwinners

According to the Harvard Business Review, women are starting businesses twice as fast as men.” Why? The Wall Street Journal reports it’s “to seize control of their time and schedule at work.” And no surprise, “The women who make it to leadership roles perform better than their male peers. And more women are C-suite executives (CEOs, COOs, CIOs, CTOs and the like) than at any time in our nation’s history.” Some women started making more money than their husbands so Innovative couples decided to “change traditional places”… leading to the advent of stay-at-home dads. Other men have moved into formerly female professions such as nursing, healthcare and education.

Today “women’s work” is “men’s work” too. Busy-working-mothers are teaching their busy-working-husbands how to use the washer and dryer, how to manage lunches, homework and bedtime, how to share drop offs and pickups and care for elderly family members. To handle the squeeze, men and women are getting creative. Jessica Alba is CEO of a billion dollar Unicorn (a Unicorn is a start up that reaches one billion dollars!) The Honest Company evaluates the safety and quality of everything that touches your family; Adi Tatarko and husband Olon Cohen, cofounders of another billion dollar Unicorn, Houzz, share online what they learned when they decorated their own home.

And “men’s work” is “women’s work” too. Ginni Rometty is CEO, Chairman and President of IBM; Marillyn Hewson is CEO, Chairman and President of Lockheed Martin; Indra Nooyi is CEO and Chairman of Pepsico; and Ellen Kullman is CEO and Chairman of DuPont; and Mary Barra is CEO of Barra, our nation’s largest auto-maker; Alison Overholt is the new first female Editor-in-Chief of ESPN The Magazine; and Linda Cohn recently made history for hosting SportsCenter for the 5,000th Time.

Glass Ceiling or Gear Errors?

No, it isn’t a glass ceiling that’s stopping us. It’s men and women failing to gear up, and down, at the right time… pressing ahead in 2nd when they need to shift to 1st to nurture and teach; or working longer and harder in 2nd when they need to shift to 3rd Gear. It’s employers and managers mistakenly over-incenting, over-salarying and over-bonusing 2nd Gear activities, squeezing out the time needed for 1st Gear learning and relearning, and 3rd gear creativity, innovation and startups.

The stalling, lurching, and cracking glass is because we’ve been “gaming the workplace”… paying Success Gears and sexes preferentially. And it’s costing us our health and our wellbeing, and our children’s. Now that you know how and when to use all three Success Gears, you can be a more skillful “homeplace and workplace driver.” And a happier and more balanced example to your coworkers, families and kids.

Susan Ford Collins…“America’s Premier Success and Leadership Coach” CNN… is the creator of THE TECHNOLOGY of SUCCESS, the powerful leadership system used in more than 3,000 training programs in major corporations and organizations, in startups and turnarounds. Audiences begged Susan to write about the 10 Success Skills so after shadowing Highly Successful People (HSPs) for 20 years and coaching them for 20 more, she wrote The Joy of Success, Success Has Gears, and Our Children Are Watching, all now available on Amazon. or