It's invisible, so how do you test whether a "glass ceiling" is really holding you back -- or whether there is more you could do to set yourself up for promotion?
With all the statistical evidence in recent weeks that cultural barriers still impede the promotion of women and visible minorities in Canadian workplaces, it is tempting to blame the employer if you belong to one of those historically disadvantaged groups and your own progression has stalled, says Toronto-based career coach Randall Craig.
"But blame can't solve the problem. Only the employee can," says Mr. Craig, who weighs in on the delicate issue of discrimination with some provocative advice.
Take stock of yourself before you conclude that you have been treated unjustly, he says. Has your performance been stellar? Have you made a few costly mistakes? Have you had run-ins with your manager? These are questions that anyone should ask, regardless of gender or cultural background, if a hoped-for promotion fails to materialize, he adds.
Determine whether you have the skills and experience that your employer bases promotions on. If you don't, take steps to address those gaps and broaden your experience. Ask your manager what you can and should do to improve your prospects.
Seek some objective outside advice as well, Mr. Craig says.
"Many organizations realize that, to prosper, promotion should be based on merit but, unfortunately, there are some unenlightened players out there. If you believe this is the case in your situation, you have a decision to make: Stay, fight or channel your energy elsewhere," says Mr. Craig, the author of Leaving the Mother Ship.
Managers are often uncomfortable telling candidates why they were passed over for promotion, which can make it difficult to improve on any perceived shortcomings. If this is the case, he suggests, ask a trusted mentor to do some digging on your behalf.
Often, there is a logical explanation -- perhaps the manager felt you were not quite ready.
But if you have taken the steps to qualify yourself for the next level and still find yourself pigeonholed, it might be time to look elsewhere, Mr. Craig says.
"It's not a question of saying: 'I've been passed over, I'm angry.' There are always those feelings," he says. "It's water under the bridge. The question is: What are you going to do about it?"
If you have, in fact, been discriminated against, it is very difficult to prove unless the discrimination was blatant, says executive recruiter Jay Rosenzweig of Toronto-based Rosenzweig & Co.
"Unless you have concrete evidence of clear discrimination, you need to be very, very careful" about confronting your employer, he says.
Still, Mr. Rosenzweig says, there are telltale signs that you will never get ahead in your current organization. Among them:
There are no women or visible minorities in executive positions or on the senior management track.
Your job title is more junior than the titles of colleagues who have the same experience and do the same work, and you report to someone lower down in the management chain.
You have a smaller operating budget than your peers.
You are paid less than others with the same experience.
"Money talks," says Mr. Rosenzweig, whose firm recently conducted a survey that found that only 5 per cent of the top 500 senior executives in Canada are women.
"There are people -- women and ethnically diverse candidates -- who have made it through, but not enough . . . I think there is injustice out there because there haven't been enough," he says.
Human rights lawyer Raj Anand, a partner in the Toronto law firm Weir Foulds LLP, says today's entrants to the work force can test an employer's commitment to equity and diversity before they even sign on.
"In the legal profession, people are looking for this. When they are prized students leaving law school, being courted by the firms, they are looking at these things very carefully and shopping around," says Mr. Anand, a former chairman of the Ontario Human Rights Commission.
But once you are in a company and not being advanced, your legal options are "very limited" even if you suspect discrimination, Mr. Anand says. It is notoriously difficult to prove, "especially in race cases."
Mr. Rosenzweig says managers are often unaware of systemic barriers to the promotion of women and visible minorities and, therefore, will not make any special attempt to reach out to qualified candidates. At the same time, women and other minority candidates are often reticent to promote themselves, he says. "You need to take your career into your own hands. It might mean that you have to go and fight for a promotion, and not wait until someone taps you for that promotion. You have to step up and go after it," he says.
If senior managers in your organization consistently fail to look beyond the white, male ranks when they are considering candidates for promotion, they are, perhaps, "being subconsciously discriminatory," Mr. Rosenzweig says.
If this is the case, make some noise and prove yourself, he says."If you are in their face, and you make the case for why you should be there, perhaps they will pay attention."
Mr. Craig agrees. Get your manager's attention by asking how you can do better, by volunteering for extra duties, by demonstrating your initiative, by taking courses. Even if you ultimately do not get the promotion you want in your current workplace, you have made yourself more valuable to other employers.
Before making a move, though, do some research. An increasing number of employers are actively recruiting to diversity their ranks, he says. But if your employer is one of those "unenlightened players," Mr. Craig says, and the glass ceiling seems fairly solid, "you have some strategic choices to make " -- fight or switch.
"Don't bang your head against a wall that can't be penetrated,"Mr. Rosenzweig says."Sometimes it means moving somewhere else."
Take this job and analyze it
Address the gaps: If you decide to stay, spend time with your manager or human resources group learning about the criteria for promotion, then craft a plan to address any gaps. When the gaps are addressed, it is easier to make the case that you are qualified for promotion.
Fight the glass ceiling: If you feel you have been discriminated against, you can choose to fight the glass ceiling, but recognize that your attention may be diverted from your job, which could negatively affect your performance.
Take a long, hard look at the organization: If you win your fight, ask yourself if this is really the type of organization that you want to work at. Taking a principled stand is the only way to stamp out discrimination of any type, but doing so may cost you personally.
Take charge of your career: The best course of action is to realize that whether you stay or go, it is not the employer's responsibility to manage your career. It is yours. So if you feel you can do better elsewhere, leave the attitude at the door, brush off your résumé, and start the job of looking for your next one.
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