The University Record, March 25, 1997

Want to break 'glass ceiling'?
Be a leader where you are

By Jane R. Elgass

"Be a leader where you are."

McClain photoThat's part of the advice offered by Jackie McClain to women who aspire to break the "glass ceiling," the invisible and artificial barriers that prevent career advancement.

McClain, executive director, Human Resources and Affirmative Action, noted that the barriers surface in hiring to fill positions, the availability of development programs, and in compensation and rewards.

"The corporate hierarchy doesn't represent the diversity of the workforce," McClain told a workshop audience at the recent Women of Color Task Force Conference for People of Color. Ninety-seven percent of the individuals at Fortune 1000 industrial companies and Fortune 500 companies are men, and 95-97 percent of those are white.

In determining whether an organization provides equal opportunity to all, McClain said job seekers should consider this check list:


  Are promotional opportunities widely communicated?


Is there any succession planning, and are women and minorities included?


Is there equality in experiences to build cross-functional skills?


Is there a formal performance appraisal program, and is there any disparity among groups?


Is there equal participation in high visibility committee assignments?


Are there equal training opportunities, both formal and informal?


Are there equal mentoring opportunities?

Those who aspire to leadership must first define their goals, which can be changed over time, and commit to those goals.

"Small goals can lead to big wins," McClain noted. "You have to look at both immediate and long-term opportunities, where your job will lead you."

Other steps to be taken:


Inventory your skills to identify strengths and weaknesses.


Seek people who know more than you do. "Mentors come in all sizes, shapes, colors and both genders," she said. "You can have multiple mentors who change as your life goes on. Seek a person who takes an interest in you as an individual."


Follow your vision. "There will be good days and bad days. Step back, take a deep breath and remind yourself of where you are going."


Read everything you can in the field in which you are interested on a regular basis, and read broadly, not limiting yourself to things you agree with.


Attend and give presentations. "There's no better way to learn about your field, particularly if you have to tell someone about it."


  Initiate development activities to address weaknesses, attempt new tasks, volunteer.


Periodically review your goals, including those in your private life, since they can affect career decisions.

"No matter where you are in an organization, when you capitalize on leadership abilities, you can be a leader," McClain said.