How have you chipped away at glass ceilings?

By Carol / August 2, 2016 /

“When there are no ceilings, the sky’s the limit.” Hillary Clinton

NOTE – This is not a political post, so if Clinton’s name inspires you to rant, take a breath, relax, and hang with me as I muse in other directions.

Chihuly Garden & Glass, Seattle, Washington.

Chihuly Garden & Glass, Seattle, Washington.

The United States made history this week when a major political party, for the first time ever, nominated a woman to run for president. During her acceptance speech, Clinton made the statement above about ceilings, and I could not help but think about my own career and how many ceilings have broken since I entered the workforce in the early 1970s.

Back in 1973 when I joined the Soybean Digest staff as editorial assistant, I didn’t recognize what a major step my boss at the American Soybean Association took when he named me the first female editor of a national ag magazine. There were women home page and recipe editors, but no women editors of ag topics.

Yet, his willingness to push the boundaries only went so far. Each year when Secretary’s Day came around, the men took the (women) secretaries to lunch, and they invited me, too. Each year, I argued that I wasn’t a secretary so I shouldn’t be included. Each year he said I needed to go. Each year, I went along and enjoyed lunch with the other women. Then after lunch, I went back to the office and reimbursed him.

Every job I had in my career trajectory showed the challenge to shifting attitudes and acceptance of women.

As a member of the American Ag Editor’s Association, I participated one year in a panel of ag editors, including a (male) editor from Successful Farming magazine. During the panel discussion, that editor commented that his magazine would never hire a woman in an editorial position because a woman could never know enough about agriculture. At that moment I thought, Hey. I’m sitting right here.

In that moment, I was embarrassed, but also silent. He was completely comfortable saying what he did, and neither I nor anyone else challenged him. That was the time.

The upshot of this story is that nearly 10 years later, that same editor asked me to interview for one of the positions he’d said would never go to a woman at that magazine.

In my early years at CMF&Z (the marketing agency I worked at for 20 years), we pitched for a major national account. The agency knew that the prospective client would have a woman at the table, so it was agreed the agency needed one, too. And they wanted me to be that woman. Cool. Right? But I had specific instructions: Do not say anything.

I must say, I played my role perfectly. When I returned from that pitch, though, I vowed that I would never let myself be put in a position like that again. Nor would I let it happen to anyone who worked with me.

Over time, the attitudes of men at CMF&Z changed. Capable women were hired in account management positions, they led major accounts – including ag accounts, they were successful.

Men had to change their attitudes, but women did, too. Some women at CMF&Z felt that if one woman held an account management position, that was all there could be. Because I was there, they considered the path closed to them. That wasn’t true, of course, but only time could prove that.

I didn’t consider myself as breaking ground – or cracking ceilings – though I see now that I was. So we’ve come a long way, baby. All of us. And I agree with what Clinton said. When we break a ceiling, there’s upside potential for all of us.

What do you say? Have you broken ceilings yourself or helped someone else do it?

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  1. Marian Beaman on August 2, 2016 at 8:33 am

    I don’t think I broke any glass ceilings, but leading my neighborhood of 65 homes to go head to head with WalMart was a challenge. Our community didn’t think we had a choice not to fight against this behemoth: 4.3 acres of lovely oaks and wetlands were at stake.

    • Carol Bodensteiner on August 2, 2016 at 9:56 am

      Good for you, Marian. You stepped up. You didn’t know where that would lead, but whether you changed the WalMart site or not, you empowered yourself and others by speaking out. We never know who’s watching those efforts and what that will mean to them over time. Our incremental actions may result in seismic change.

  2. Merril Smith on August 2, 2016 at 11:11 am

    Wonderful post, Carol. I think stories like yours need to be shared. I remember having lunch with a group of women historians. One of them told a story about a male historian remarking that there were so many (or too many) women in their department. I don’t remember the exact number, but it was something like there were now four women in a department of twenty-five.

    Hillary Clinton’s nomination is a notable and exciting achievement. It hasn’t even been a hundred years since US women got the right to vote in national elections.

    • Carol Bodensteiner on August 2, 2016 at 11:29 am

      Thanks, Merril. I began thinking about this some months ago when I spoke at a college alumni day and did an overview of my career path for the students. I realized those bright, young people had no idea what the job reality was for women 40 years ago. The ceilings are always there (blocking many, not just for women) and it takes all of us chip, chip, chipping away to open up opportunity for everyone.

  3. Paulette Mahurin on August 3, 2016 at 8:39 am

    Not sure if I broke any ceilings but sure banged my head up against a few, especially as a woman working in the medical profession. Great post and question. Thanks Carol.

    • Carol Bodensteiner on August 3, 2016 at 8:47 am

      Chip, chip, chip. It can take many people pushing against a barrier over time before we break through. I see your work to save dogs from kill shelters as taking the lead against a barrier, Paulette. It’s not a ceiling, but your work is designed to change minds and actions, so similar. You continue to talk about it and put the profits from your book sales toward the task. As a result, you’re making a difference.

  4. Joan Z. Rough on August 3, 2016 at 10:32 am

    Great work, Carol. I’ve butted my head a number of times but never caused a chip or a crack, but then I haven’t worked in the corporate world. There are glass ceilings in every vocation, even in the arts.

    • Carol Bodensteiner on August 3, 2016 at 2:02 pm

      Yes, Joan, even in the arts. I read of a study that was done with musicians auditioning for major symphony orchestras. When a woman auditioned and the panel knew it was a woman, she seldom was hired. When all applicants were auditioned blind – playing heard but not seen – women were often given the nod. Stereotypes are deeply embedded and hard to overcome since often we don’t even know they exist.

  5. Elfrieda Neufeld Schroeder on August 3, 2016 at 2:20 pm

    Just after we got married, (1968) my husband went to Mennonite Biblical Seminary for one semester to brush up on Hebrew and Old Testament before going into Bible translation work in Africa. I worked part time in the library and decided to audit some courses because I had time and was interested. The students were all male and everyone, including the professors wondered why I would waste my time like that. I knew that I was capable of studying for credit, but as a female at that time, I had a certain role to play, and that wasn’t it! More than twenty years later, when I graduated with a PhD in German Literature, no one questioned my reason for doing so, except one professor who wondered why I would be doing so at my age (late forties!). He couldn’t comprehend that I wasn’t doing it for financial gain, but for personal interest and enjoyment!

    • Carol Bodensteiner on August 3, 2016 at 2:33 pm

      What a terrific story, Elfrieda. We women do often find meaning in courses of action that baffle men. Your story reminds me of a friend – Mary Ilvisaker Nilsen – who married a minister and has throughout her life struggled with how to fulfill her own spiritual calling during decades when that was not the role of a woman, let alone of a minister’s wife. You might enjoy her beautiful memoir “Beyond the Dead End,” which shares her journey to take meaning from her life.

      On a side note, I think it is a shame that our society considers study for the sake of personal edification and enjoyment to be a waste of time.

  6. Rose Kleidon on August 6, 2016 at 3:14 pm

    Thank you for an interesting, important post. My first love was history, but as a college freshman in 1963 Illinois, I was told not to go into it — the only history teachers high schools hired had to be coaches, too, for the only sports then played — boys’ teams. And teaching in college would take a PhD, hah! Not likely. So I chipped away at a ceiling that was already cracking, becoming an English professor, a businesswoman and now a writer of historical fiction.

    Hillary Clinton has already smashed through so many ceilings that she ought always to be pictured with shards of glass on her shoulders. I only wish more young women understood what it took to blaze this pathway, instead of thinking, quite foolishly, that the way had always been open to their kind.

    • Carol Bodensteiner on August 7, 2016 at 10:29 am

      Thanks for joining the discussion, Rose, and for sharing your story. I think many of us from that era encountered barriers and found new paths to success, changing the landscape along the way. There’s a value in telling each of our stories. Young women and men need to be aware.

      When you mentioned being from Illinois, I was reminded of another Illinois trailblazer from that time – Pat McKinzie – who broke barriers for women on the basketball court. Maybe you know her. She wrote a terrific memoir of her experience called “Home Sweet Hardwood.” A book that ought to be required reading for all young women going who participate in sports.

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