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

To Create Anything Life-Changing, You Have to be Willing to Look a Little Crazy Up Front!

By Susan Ford Collins

Feeling stuck? Here’s something you need to know.

On Independence Day 1994, Jeff Bezos resigned his Wall Street finance position, flew to Texas with his wife Mackenzie, picked up an ‘88 Chevy Blazer and headed for Seattle. Why? To start something most people thought would be a surefire failure at the time… an online bookstore. That spring Jeff learned that Internet usage was increasing at 2300% a year and he saw an opportunity for a new sphere of business.

Mackenzie drove while Jeff typed a business plan for the company they would name after the South American river with seemingly uncountable branches. They started their new company in their two-bedroom house, using three Sun Microstations perched on $60 worth of Home Depot doors and powered by extension cords running to the garage.

 “I knew that if I failed I wouldn’t regret that, but I knew
the one thing I might regret was not trying.”
Jeff Bezos

On July 16, 1995, Jeff opened to the world and asked 300 friends who had beta-tested it to spread the word. And they did! In 30 days, with no press, Amazon sold books in 50 states and 45 foreign countries. By September, sales were $20,000 a week. Early naysayers thought Bezos would lose his shirt and his family’s, but by 2015 Forbes Magazine listed his net worth at $50.4 billion!

The road to dreams isn’t a straight line

Like the Amazon River, it’s curving, meandering, and unexplored. But before you can start the journey, you have to let go of two action-approaches we were taught as kids… don’t start anything unless you know how to do it, and don’t do anything unless others agree. But we’ve outgrown our need for these rules.

An “adult truth” about success… success has three gears

1st Gear is for starting and restarting, for becoming effective at life, new skills and technologies. Keywords include: always/never, can/can’t, safe/dangerous, possible/impossible, right/wrong, good/bad, should/shouldn’t, have to/must, and agreement and permission.

2nd Gear is for accelerating productivity and honing your competitive edge, for deleting 1st rules and developing shortcuts. Keywords include: more-better-faster, win/lose, produce/compete, quantity/quality, longer hours/lower costs/higher profits, burnout, stress and injury. This is the gear most people spend most of their lives in, but if you can’t gear up to 3rd to dream, or gear down to start over, you can’t fulfill your unique mission.

3rd Gear is for moving beyond the usual; for noticing ahas, for creating and innovating, for new thinking, products and services. Keywords: aha, discover, create, invent, innovate and start up.

To create anything life-changing or earth-changing, you have to be willing to use all three gears of success as needed… even though individuals, who are stuck in 1st or 2nd gear, won’t be able to gear up with you until the world comes to agree.

Have you bought anything online lately... books or anything else? Clothes, shoes, cameras, or groceries? Sounded crazy in 1994, but it doesn’t sound crazy now!


The Greatest Challenge Trainers and Leaders Face Is Shifting Gears

By Susan Ford Collins

New employees head into training sessions with great expectations about promotions, bonuses and creative contributions. But they are unaware of the leadership glitches they may confront as they transition from classroom to cubicle, manager to manager.

Trainers are well prepared to teach basic skills. They are organized and supportive, willing to answer questions and provide detailed answers until testing reveals their trainees are ready. But to succeed in the next phase, employees must traverse the sometimes treacherous crevasse between classroom-leadership expectations and the expectations of busy, numbers-oriented managers and CEOs. Let’s examine these transitions from a new perspective.

Success has gears

As you drive, you use gears to move ahead, slowly at first, then more rapidly and easily. As you succeed, you use gears too. Like good drivers, you must learn to recognize which gear is needed, and when and how to shift up and down.

1st Gear is for starting and restarting, for learning new skills and technologies. Keywords: try, can, can’t, possible, impossible, safe, dangerous, right, wrong, good, bad, always, never, rules, practice, test, retest and certify.

2nd Gear is for becoming productive and honing your competitive edge by deleting unneeded 1st Gear rules, devising shortcuts and developing efficiency. Keywords: quantity, quality, more, better, faster, longer hours, higher stress, higher profits, win, lose, prizes, promotions, bonuses, burnout and diminishing returns.

3rd Gear is for moving beyond the methods and systems in use; for inventing new methods, products and services. Keywords: breakthrough, insight, aha, discover, invent, innovate and start up.

Each Success Gear has a corresponding Leadership Gear

As a leader you must learn to identify not just which gear you are in, but also which gear others are in, and what kind of leadership they need.

When you lead someone in 1st Gear, you are responsible for teaching skills step-by-step, closely supervising progress, clarifying mistakes, testing, grading, and building self-confidence and enthusiasm.

When you lead in 2nd Gear, you manage from more distance, detailing what you want, providing feedback, accurate appraisals and career development steps. Even though your employees are working independently, you are still in charge, managing their productivity by numbers, charts and graphs, and building their self-confidence by rewards, raises and promotions.

The Shift to 3rd Gear Leadership is far more subtle and business-changing

You are responsible for providing a nurturing environment for innovation and invention--the very assets you need for the next phase of your business and industry. Day by day, you must be on alert for new ideas, listen to their creators and support them as they flesh out proposals, locate resources, and develop start up teams.

But not all leaders recognize which gear is needed or shift up, or down, at the right time.

Gear Shifting Errors cost time, money, and well-trained-experienced employees

Andrew was number one in his training class! But when his new manager completed his quarterly appraisal two weeks later, he said, “As far as I’m concerned, Andrew has not produced any results” and gave him the lowest performance score. But Andrew had performed at the highest level in the gear he was in… 1st Gear.

That manager’s low evaluation impacted his career until his 4th manager gave Andrew the highest performance score and asked why he wasn’t at a higher pay grade. He read Andrew’s past performance evaluations and gave him a raise to bring him to the compensation level he should be receiving, given his outstanding performance from the start. Fortunately Andrew stayed with his company but many employees leave and take their training with them.

Bob confronted a different but equally career-devastating Leadership Error... a manager who failed to downshift to support a top employee in crisis. A few weeks after Bob returned from SMB’s national convention, where he was invited to speak on “How to be a Top Sales Rep”, his manager announced they had lost the contract with a major healthcare provider over of profit margins. But instead of meeting with Bob, knowing losing that account loss would eliminate one quarter of his income, his manager tagged on the annual 6% increase and told him to “make up the difference however you can.” Bob was staggered! Now, just to make plan, he would have to produce a 31% increase!

At the convention the following year, Bob failed to receive a single award or acknowledgment, despite consistent hard work and steady progress,. And, most devastating of all, that year’s winner only exceeded plan by 10%, not 31%!

Having lost faith in his leaders, months later Bob accepted an offer from a competitor and, using the training, experience and information he had gained at SMB, Bob rapidly rose to the top of their sales team and bit off a huge chunk of SMB’s business.

The most devastating Gear Shifting Error of all… the loss of the next generation of ideas and leaders

One of the most profound expenses corporations face is the loss of their most creative thinkers because their leaders failed to gear up to support them. Michael Bloomberg persistently told Salomon Brothers that investors wanted real-time data and analytics and pushed for desktop computers instead of mammoth mainframes. But instead of utilizing his ideas, his bosses demoted him to IT. When Salomon merged a few years later, Bloomberg was dismissed and created the phenomenally successful Bloomberg Terminal which transformed the financial world.

Why most people can’t think “outside the box”?

When financial “push comes to shove” instead of leading individuals to creativity and innovation, do you or your leaders incent employees to stay in 2nd? Do you over-reward or disproportionately bonus more-better-faster behaviors? And under-reward the 1st gear learning and relearning your company needs to keep up? What 3rd Gear incentives and support systems does your organization have in place for nurturing the new ideas and approaches that will generate success in the future?

Shifting Success and Leadership Gears, at the right time, is a skill we all need to use and model at work and at home with our kids.

c) Susan Ford Collins. For permission to use this article, email

* For more on Self-Confidence, read Skill 1 in The Joy of Success and Our Children Are Watching.

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