What Pink Ceiling? Study Shows Women Help Each Other Get Ahead In The Workplace

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June 13, 2012 ‐ By

As women, we know an awful lot about the glass ceiling and the struggle for equal space in the boardroom, but there’s also a phenomenon known as the pink ceiling that’s been used to describe the behavior of women who do actually make it to the top of their profession and then try to keep other women from reaching their level. It’s basically the crabs in a barrel mentality in the office.

Thankfully, a new study is showing there’s more myth than truth to the practice they call “Queen Bee” syndrome—not that Queen Bey or is it King B now? Anyway, research conducted by Catalyst shows most women don’t actually view their female subordinates as competition to be moved out of the way. In fact, they see less experienced female coworkers as potential talent and are actually more likely than men to try to nurture that talent through informal or formal mentorship.

For the study, “High Potentials In The Pipeline: Leaders Pay It Forward,” Catalyst’s researchers followed the careers of 742 “high potential” male and female MBA graduates who worked in a number of different fields from 2008 to 2010. The researchers questioned the graduates about the career help that they had received over the years, including both informal mentorship and sponsorship, which usually involves working with a high-powered professional who actively pushes for their sponsor’s career advancement. The survey also asked whether or not they were helping the next generation of employees advance themselves.

What they found was that many of the men and women currently involved in talent development had been thoroughly curated by someone else. Of those surveyed, 65 percent of women who had received career support went on to return the favor to the next set of talent, compared with 56 percent of men. Out of the women who said they were developing talent, 73 percent said they are developing other women, which means we basically have each other’s backs like good feminists should.

Gail Evans, professor of organizational behavior and author of “Play Like a Man, Win Like a Woman,” thinks this study reflects a generational change that’s going on in the workplace.

“I think there certainly were Queen Bees around when the workplace was about scarcity for women,” she said. “You ended up with women who were older who had given up a lot to get to those [leadership] positions. Their life was the job and their deep belief was ‘I had to work hard, I had to give up a lot, it was tough to get here and the way in which I mentor younger women is to toughen them out.’”

I’ve definitely been on the receiving end of that tyrany and don’t ever want to go back. Christine Silva, the lead researcher on the study, said she’s excited about the positive trend her research shows and what it means for the next league of women leaders.

“The act of paying it forward is so powerful for the person doing it, the person being developed, and the organization itself. I hope women hear that and think ‘this is something I can do proactively for my career.’”

Have you had female professionals actively try to help you excel in the workplace or have you been a victim of the pink ceiling? Are you a mentor yourself?

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