Since the initial recognition of gender inequality in the workplace, the term “glass-ceiling” has often been the way to describe women’s inability to rise past a certain level in their career compared to men. This term suggests that the workplace experience is similar for men and women until a specific point, after which women fall behind. It implies that men and women face the same trials and tribulations early in their careers. The inequalities appear at the C-suite door as an invisible barrier to entry based on gender. However, this metaphor ignores the barriers and inequalities women face in every step of their career, suggesting it is an inaccurate touchstone.
The Harvard Business Review describes this problem of misrepresentation of the challenges facing women in the workplace by writing that “if one has misdiagnosed a problem, then one is unlikely to prescribe an effective cure.” The author goes on to say:
“Metaphors matter because they are part of the storytelling that can compel change. Believing in the existence of a glass ceiling, people emphasize certain kinds of interventions: top-to-top networking.”
For this reason, there’s a strong argument to use a metaphor of the Labyrinth of Leadership instead. The Labyrinth depicts a scenario in which obstacles are faced at every turn. From the different criteria by which men and women are judged in their interviews, to the unequal demands of family responsibilities, to the various leadership expectations based on gender, women encounter barriers throughout their careers. This lays out a more accurate scenario faced by women today in the workplace.
One inspiring solution that comes from this shift in metaphors is the idea that women who have found their way through the maze and labyrinth can light the way for other women to follow. The idea that this issue is not an unsolvable, impenetrable barrier, but a puzzle that needs to be cracked, provides hope and promise for women’s future in the workplace.