Awareness is the first step to breaking the glass ceiling

I am an organizer for Women in Technology International (WITI) in Sweden, a networking and support group for women working in all sectors of technology. Recently, while hosting a lunch for WITISweden it suddenly struck me: All the brilliant women that I continuously meet online and offline on a daily basis are smart, well educated and have an extensive CV that I seldom experience when meeting men at work. Still, women are not as prevalent in boardrooms and in positions of authority.

This is not to say that men are not smart or well-educated and have a great CVs, but it strikes me time after time that women still seem to need a very extensive CV to reach above the glass ceiling.

In Sweden 60% of university students are women. Not only do more female students complete their degree than male students, they do so with better results. They also have better grades in high school.

Discovering unconscious bias

I recently did an experiment, which I challenge you to do:

What is the first picture that comes to mind when asked to think of the gender of a:

  1. Soldier in the army
  2. Physician
  3. CEO of a big company
  4. President
  5. Nurse
  6. Bus driver
  7. Daycare teacher
  8. Principal

The responses I got from both women and men were unambiguous as follows:

  1. Young, white man
  2. White, middle-aged man with glasses
  3. White middle-aged man
  4. Middle-aged man.
  5. Young white woman
  6. Man
  7. Young woman
  8. White middle-aged man

The people I asked were all stunned, and some were embarrassed as well, since they all thought they were unbiased and had broad views on equality in work. I’m not surprised at all because I answered about the same. The difference is that I’m aware of my bias, and awareness is the first step to breaking the glass ceiling. But you need to act on your bias as well in order to increase the opportunities for all to use their superpowers/talents in life and work.

People are the natural resources, and we need to take care of them as such. We need to be given and take the opportunities to use our talents to create a better place for us all to live. That’s the only sustainable way to move forward and keep the earth a great place to live in.

Here are some tips to increase women’s opportunities in work life:

  • Increase your awareness of your own prejudices.
  • Ask yourself – if I were a man, would I be treated this way? Act on it.
  • Ask yourself – if this was a man speaking, would I listen differently?
  • Support and cheer on the women around you.
  • Good enough is enough. You’ll be just fine doing enough.
  • Surround yourself with men that support women in work life.
  • Spend time with people that support you on your way to success.

Become a “fika” pro

As I work in the tech startup ecosystem, I keep on running into these fabulous women that are strong, follow their path, and inspire and help other women succeed. I love networking and connecting people that I think can benefit from each other in order to move forward in whatever they are aiming at.

“The person that says it cannot be done should not interrupt the person doing it” is one of my favorite Chinese proverbs. Just go do it! You’re allowed to and you can.

One of my three super-talents is to have a fika. Fika is considered a social institution in Sweden, and it means having a break, most often a coffee break, with one’s colleagues, friends, date, or family.”   It’s fun, healthy, and great for networking. In Sweden many people are fika pros, and people that come here to work, for example, say that fika is one of the first words and habits that they have to get used to. And it’s an easy habit to adhere to.

Learn more about WITISweden here.

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