3 Things you can do to stand out and break the glass ceiling at work

Published on Jul 01, 2021

3 Things you can do to stand out and break the glass ceiling at work

While many companies boast about their robust diversity and inclusion strategies, many women and people of color are still struggling to get to where they’d like to be in the workforce. Career Coach Kimberly Cummings has certainly felt this way. After coming face to face with the glass ceiling at work, she decided to seek out external opportunities that support her career growth. As the founder of personal development company Manifest Yourself, Kimberly is on a mission to help women of color get seen in the workplace, make more money and become leading industry experts.

If, like Kimberly, you’ve experienced frustrations associated with the glass ceiling, and are committed to staying at your company, here’s her advice on what you can do to stand out and break through:  

Gather feedback and create an action plan.

Don’t be afraid to ask your coworkers or supervisors for feedback outside of your review process. If you don’t yet have the qualifications of a candidate who is eligible for more senior-level roles, you have some work to do to develop the skills and expertise needed for those roles. Do not be discouraged and work on making those goals a reality. You may find yourself prepared when the next performance review comes around.

Keep in mind that you always have the ability to change, pivot, and evolve over time. There is always time to learn and become a marketable leader. Working on having strong people leadership experience, your ability to create and implement strategic plans and establish a positive rapport with clients and fellow employees.

Volunteer for higher level projects and working groups.

It is important that you break out of the mold for your current role to showcase that you’re able to take on higher level responsibilities. Many times, you can do this by volunteering for a new project or committee outside of your current scope of work to learn more about another area of the business. You can also take on leadership roles within the company’s employee resource groups or external professional organizations to gain new experiences that provide you with exposure and new tasks that align with your career goals. If your company cannot see you doing great work in your role and work that aligns closely with the promotion, it’s very easy for an external candidate to secure the role.

Early on in her career, Kimberly was determined to become a people leader, but like many early-stage professionals, she didn’t have experience managing people so she was never selected for the roles she applied to. She ended up joining a professional organization and assuming a role on their board where she managed a small committee. Over a few short years, she moved from a smaller board role to serving as the organization’s president. Showcasing her ability to lead in an external organization was the exact experience that helped her move into the people leader position she coveted. She still didn’t have traditional “management experience” at first, but she had references who were able to speak to her leadership capabilities and management style.    

Seek out mentors and sponsors who can support your career goals.

Studies show that mentors and sponsors are one of the missing links for many minority professionals looking to advance in their careers. It’s important to have internal and external advocates who can vouch for and support your career growth; without this, advancing can become much more challenging. The main difference between a sponsor and a mentor is that the sponsor is vouching for the credibility of an employee and being able to literally “pull them up” into a room, meeting, position, or even a promotion that they wouldn’t have otherwise received without the sponsor’s endorsement. The mentor is there to assist with more of the day to day nuances in your work and and strategize on a plan of action. Mentors can be a close coworker or someone slightly more senior, while sponsors are always in positions of power and influence.

In both scenarios, the relationships do not have to be formalized or have a specific structure. The relationships just have to be built over time so you are able to benefit from the relationships when you’re ready to make a career move.