How Women Can Shatter the Glass Ceiling, with Elisa Doucette

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The “glass ceiling” is an invisible but very real barrier that limits women’s progress up the career ladder. Many women find themselves stuck in mid-level positions, unable to break into the top echelon of  senior management.

This week’s guest, Elisa Doucette, discusses the history of the glass ceiling and offers tips on how women can finally break through.

Elisa argues that much of animus behind the glass ceiling comes from corporate culture–not overt hatred of women. Corporations have the expectation that executives prioritize the company over all other values–sometimes including family. This “work first” culture is particularly challenging for women, who are traditionally the primary caretakers for children and other family members.

To get ahead, women need to understand this paradigm and understand what motivates her employer.If a woman can show how she will impact the company’s bottom line, she can start owning her own trajectory within the organization.

Here are Elisa’s three tips for  women can use to show their employer how amazing they are:

  1. Quantify your accomplishments with hard numbers, to show the value you bring to an organization.
  2. Make sure your voice is heard, and be willing to defend your opinions.
  3. Understand your priorities, both business and personal.

This Week’s Guest

Elisa Doucette is a freelance writer and editor.  Her work has been featured inThe New York Times, The Boston Globe, Yahoo! Small Business, The Huffington Post, and Brazen Careerist. She runs the online editorial agency, Craft Your Content, and hosts the weekly podcast, Writers’ Rough Drafts. Elisa is also responsible for the syndicated column, Shattering Glass, on

Resources from this Episode


Mac Prichard:

This is Find Your Dream Job. The podcast that helps you get hired, have the career you want, and make a difference in life. I’m Mac Prichard, your host, and publisher of Mac’s List.

I’m joined by my co-hosts, Ben Forstag, our Managing Director, and Jenna Forstrom, our Community Manager.

This week, we’re talking about how women can shatter the glass ceiling.

Our show is brought to you by Hack the Hidden Job Market.  The new online course from Mac’s List. As many as eight out of ten job openings never get advertised. Is your dream job one of them? Learn how to uncover hidden jobs, and get noticed by the hiring managers who fill them. Visit

Look at the photo of the leadership team of many employers, large or small. Chances are you’ll see many more men than women. According to the Center for American Progress, women in the U.S. Hold 52% of all professional jobs, but American women remain well underrepresented in leadership positions.

What’s stopping women from getting these executive jobs? It’s called the Glass Ceiling. Writer Ann Morrison says this barrier is “So subtle is transparent, yet so strong that it prevents women from moving up”.

Our guest expert this week is Elisa Doucette. She says it is possible to break through the glass ceiling. Later in the show Elisa will give you her ideas for how to do this.

Many of us want careers that offer a flexible work schedule. This can make it easier to raise children or care for a family member. Ben Forstag has discovered a list of two hundred and fifty flexible jobs. He’ll share it with us in a moment.

Have you found your dream employer, but maybe there’s a problem. The company isn’t hiring right now. What do you do next? That’s the question of the week. It comes from listener Dan Reifenberger. Jenna Forstrom tells us her answer in a few minutes.

But first, as always, let’s check in with the Mac’s List team. Jenna, Ben, I’m curious. How have you two seen the glass ceiling operate in your own careers?

Ben Forstag:

Well, I’m not operating in the top echelons of Corporate America, so I don’t see the barriers at the very top for women there, but certainly throughout my career and throughout my life I’ve seen plenty of examples where women have faced undue burdens that men don’t have to face in the job market. I remember one job I had where there was discernable difference between how women were treated. Particularly young women versus how men were treated in the organization where it was ok for men to speak up and say things at staff meetings, but women, when they did, got the reputation of being difficult to manage and not helpful. So, you know, I think sometimes people think the glass ceiling is only at the very apex of your career but I think it kind of exists on every level of the job market.

Jenna Forstrom:

Well. I would say my experience has just been growing up and going to business school and just having it drilled into my head that I will statistically make less money just because I’m a girl. And honestly like in all of my jobs, I’ve been pretty lucky where I don’t feel like someone’s making more money than me because they’re male.

But I’ve definitely had lots of conversations at happy hour with other women and we have the same drama, and we get asked random questions. We, the Mac’s List team, have gone to conferences and no one tries to hug Mac or Ben, but people feel the need to hug me when I meet them and it’s just like, if you guys wouldn’t do that why would you think it’s ok to do that to me. So, just small things like that that girls juts have to or women have to deal with.

Mac Prichard:

One example I saw early in my career–and I continue to see examples even today but, it really struck me when I was working in Boston in the early 80’s for a non-profit group. We would get paid every other Friday, and we didn’t have direct deposit so you’d go to the bank. The bank that I used was right across from the Public, or from the Common, in the center of Boston. I’d walk in and I would stand in line, wait for the teller, so I got to know all the tellers well. There was always one white male who was working as a teller for about six months, and then he would get moved to a loan officers job with a desk on the floor, and then six or twelve months later, he would, you’d see him up on the second floor where the senior leaders were. But the other tellers who were all women or people of color, they never made that move. It was just a very striking example for me even then thirty five years ago of the glass ceiling and how it operates.

Well thank you both. Now, let’s turn to Ben who every week is out there searching the nooks and the crannies of the internet, looking for tools, books, and websites you all can use in your job search and your career.

Now Ben, tell us what have you found for our listeners this week?

Ben Forstag

So this week, I want to share a resource called the FlexJobs 250: Companies with the Most Flexible Jobs. This comes from the website FlexJobs, which I’ve actually talked about in a past show.

This is a specific list that they’ve produced for 2016, and it’s the companies that have the most flexible work arrangements.

So the reason I’m bringing it up on this show is, we all know, women tend to be the ones who take responsibility for caring for children and taking time off to go care for older relatives as well and just general family issues. So flex scheduling is a big need for women, and one of the things that the experts say is one of the things that holds back women is when organizations are not flexible like this–when they can take time off either for short term or long term family needs. So if you are in this situation, these are the kind of organizations you might be looking for because you’ll have a little bit more flexibility in how you do your job.

So I’m not going to go through all two hundred and fifty organizations, because that’s a lot of names, but I will say here are the top industries where flex jobs are emerging as a growing trend. They’re in medical and health care, HR and recruiting, computer and IT, education, accounting and finance, government, and finally travel and hospitality. Those are the fields where all the flex jobs are, and the FlexJobs website actually says they’ve seen a 75% increase in the number of flexible jobs posted in their own database just over the last two years, and about 80% of U.S. companies currently offer some form of flex work arrangements, which is a really good thing I think for everyone involved, men and women.

So, this is, again on the FlexJobs website. It’s the 250 companies with the most flexible jobs, and we will have a link to it in the show notes.

Mac Prichard:

Great. Well thanks Ben, and I imagine even if there’s not a company in your area that it sounds like a good source for ideas for the kinds of jobs that do offer flexible schedules.

Ben Forstag:

Yeah, and I think it’s worthwhile just looking through some of the ways they define flexibility, as well, because it might give you some ideas of oh this is something that’s important for me, or something I’m looking for in another organization that might not be on this list.

Mac Prichard:

Ok, well great. If you have a suggestion for Ben, please write him. You can reach him at and we’d be thrilled to share your ideas on the show.

Now let’s turn to you, our listeners. Jenna Forstrom, our Community Manager, is here and she joins us to answer one of your questions. Jenna, what do you have for us in the Mac’s List mailbag this week?

Jenna Forstrom:

Today’s question comes from Daniel Reifenberger. He also goes by Dan, for the record, who asks:

Daniel Reifenberger:

Hi. My name is Daniel from Boulder, Colorado. My question is  – What do you do if the place that you want to work isn’t hiring?

Jenna Forstrom:

This is a great question, and this is where networking comes into play. Right Guys? So, you need to stay on top of mind to these hiring managers and just go to events where their company thought leaders are speaking at and going to networking events that you know that the company’s going to be at and just become chummy buddies with anyone and everyone who works there. So check their LinkedIn. See if you have any common connections and just keep on top of their job postings and talking to their hiring manager and trying to just become friends with them so that you have the opportunity when a job posting becomes available, or a hidden job becomes available, you’re top of mind with that company. So, how about you guys, Mac and Ben, do you have any other thoughts?

Ben Forstag:

I think you’re right on track here with networking being important. I also think it’s important to find opportunities to showcase your abilities and your value in other ways outside of employment for this company. I don’t know if they have opportunities to volunteer or opportunities to do internships, or even if it’s as simple as when you are communicating with folks on LinkedIn, you’re responding to their questions with some added value. Answering questions they might have, things like that. I think the more you show yourself as a problem solver, the more, you won’t just be on top of mind when they have the next hire, but they’ll also see you as someone who is like a good catch for the job.

Mac Prichard:

Yeah, I want to congratulate Dan because he knows where he wants to go. He has the company in mind, and now his challenge is to build relationships with, inside that company. A specific step he can take is to look on LinkedIn and see what first or second degree connections he has inside that employers organization, and begin to either build new relationships with those folks or strengthen existing ties, and it’s a long game. It might be three, six, twelve even twenty four months before a position opens up that match his skills and experiences, but if he does that now and gets ahead of the rest of the pack, it will pay off.

I’m reminded of my own experience. One of my goals was to work in the office of the Governor of Oregon, and it took me two years. It wasn’t something I did every day, but over a two year period, I had some connections inside the office, I maintained them, and I built new ties with people inside the office and eventually I got a job, and it was, when I left that position, my boss at the time said, at my farewell party, after I had worked there for three years and I was, he said “You know, Mac Prichard was the first person in Oregon State Government to call me after I had been appointed Press secretary to the Governor.”

Here’s an organization with state government, has tens of thousands of employees and nobody was calling this fellow, and I did, and it didn’t lead to a job immediately, but several years later I ended up working for him and had a great experience.

So kudos to you Dan for knowing where you want to go. Now your challenge is to have a plan to get inside the organization.

Ben Forstag:

And I think one of the things that we should point out here is that this is not like a quick solution to land a job in an organization, and there might not be any quick solution if the organization itself is not hiring, right? Who knows when they’re going to make the next hire?

Mac Prichard:


Ben Forstag:

And that’s why it’s so important to kind of mainstream these kind of networking activities into your everyday life, professional life, whether you’ve got a job, or you’re looking for a job.

Mac Prichard:

Right, and you’ll probably want to do this with several different employers. I find most people do have a short list of companies or organizations where they’d like to work, and don’t wait for a posting to appear on a job board to build relationships inside those organizations. Do it now, and as you say in a low-key way.  And Jenna you’re just spot on here about the importance of networking. It’s really good advice you’re offering.

Well thank you Dan for sharing your question with us, and if you have a question for Jenna, please email her. Her address is, or call our listener line. That number is area code 716-562-8255 or 716-JOB-TALK.

These segments with Jenna and Ben are sponsored by Hack the Hidden Job Market, the new online course from Mac’s List. As many as 80% of all jobs never get posted. Instead, employers fill these openings by word of mouth. Our New course shows you how this hidden job market works.

We teach you how to find plum gigs that never appear on a job board. How to stand out online in a crowd of applicants and how to connect with insiders who can help your career.

In each of the course’s twelve modules, you get the tools and tips you need to get the work you want. Meaningful work. Work that makes a difference. Work that you can love.

Hack the Hidden Job Market is now live. Register now at

Now, let’s turn to this weeks guest expert, Elisa Doucette.

Elisa Doucette is a freelance writer and editor. Her work has been featured in The New York Times, The Boston Globe, Yahoo small Business, The Huffington Post and Brazen Careerist.  She hosts the weekly Podcast Writers Rough Drafts and writes the syndicated column Shattering Glass on Forbes.Com. She joins us today from Prague, the capital city of the Czech Republic.

Elisa, Thanks for coming on the show.

Elisa Doucette:

Thanks so much for having me and adjusting your recording times to be able to have me from the tundra of Europe.

Mac Prichard:

Well, we’re happy to move across time zones to get the best people to serve our audience so it’s a pleasure to have you here on the program.

Now, our topic this week is how women can shatter the glass ceiling. Let’s talk about the glass ceiling Elisa. What is it and how does it affect women’s careers?

Elisa Doucette:

The glass ceiling is something that I wish I knew off the top of my head, where it originates from. Anyone in the audience who might be able to comment on a post or anything that would be fascinating, but it’s basically a long standing concept that, as women attempt to progress in their careers, and especially women in like the 70’s, 80’s, early 90’s, they could get to certain levels. They could get to, you know, middle management, possibly even C or E suite type positions, but then what would happen is they would look up and be able to see all of the men above them. They’d be able to see all of the men who are always going to get the better positions than they did and the metaphor is that these men were on the next level up and you were kind of looking through a glass ceiling at them wanting to be where they are.

They can see you. There’s not really an understanding why there’s a difference but still, women are never able to kind of push through and get to that next level because there’s a sheet of pure pane glass there that’s going to keep them away but they always can kind of see it and kind of see what’s there.

Mac Prichard:

So the idea goes back to the late 1970’s and, but tell us, it’s still very much a problem today isn’t it?

Elisa Doucette:

Yeah, it’s, I mean it’s changed a fair bit I think. I personally like to think there’s kind of more and more, if you think of a pane of glass, especially if you think of a windshield. If anyone watched you know Beyoncés’ Lemonade video, you know when you take a baseball bat to a windshield it doesn’t immediately shatter. It’s tempered and so you kind of get all of the pieces in place but that piece of glass is still there until there’s been enough hits at it to really break through. I get the impression that’s kind of where the glass ceiling has started to go in the past decade. Although it’s definitely not close to shattering yet, it is at the point where women, enough women, have started to hit at it.

I mean in the U.S. we have our first major political party presidential candidate ever who’s a woman. So like there are things happening to try to break that glass ceiling. The shards, the hits are starting to happen. The fractures are starting to happen but we definitely haven’t broken through it yet.

Mac Prichard:

So let’s talk about those hits and how you can create those shards. What can women do in their own career to break through the glass ceiling?

Elisa Doucette:

Well, I’m definitely a believer in next generation or new wave feminism. Someone informed me that’s what my thought school was, so I guess I’ll go with it for now because it’s easy to classify. But I definitely don’t think we’re at the same point of you know the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s, where yelling and screaming and having to constantly be activists for women’s rights is going to get us any progress. We’ve kind of gotten to the point where that stuff isn’t as effective anymore, That’s not to say that women shouldn’t be talking about the effects of the glass ceiling and the struggles that they do have, but we’ve kind of gotten into this new place where all right, the ground has been set by these amazing pioneering women before us who’ve gotten us to this point. It’s really now the, on the backs of the lower end of Gen X all the way down to Millennials to start, you know, to borrow Sheryl Sandbergs’ quote, “ To start leaning in.” To start trying to own their own trajectories, to doing the work, showing up, being the most exceptional version of themselves. And that’s kind of the thing that we’re going to see that’s going to continue putting these hits in the glass ceiling and basically showing the men who are on the floor upstairs that you know, women are here. We’re right close to, we’re capable of being in the same room as you.

I feel like the more women make that point known through their actions–not just through their words–the more men and companies start paying attention to that reality and start noticing the women essentially coming up through the floor of their places.

Mac Prichard:

So Elisa, what actions do you see women take successfully in the workplace to send that message? What are some practical steps that you’ve seen your colleagues or leaders take in order to again, not only hit the glass ceiling, but to move through it?

Elisa Doucette:

I think first and foremost, it’s a really unfortunate and kind of dangerous narrative that we get into that corporate America is skewed against women. It certainly is. There’s no doubt about that, but it’s also more… It’s skewed against people who don’t value kind of selling their souls to make the corporations money.

So, in the past, where women have traditionally been the people who kind of gave up whatever their career and ambitions were to take care of families, to take care of spouses, to take care of children. The flip side on that is that men haven’t been able to do the things that maybe they wanted to do. You know, Cat Stevens wrote in the 70’s that his son grew up just to be like him. Ignoring the world. This isn’t a new concept that’s come down on us, so what women really need to do is understand that paradigm first of all. They need to understand that corporate America and their businesses and their bosses aren’t out to get them just because their women.

Corporations and corporate America and businesses unfortunately are often out to get them because whatever their values may be, are not in line with the bottom line of what’s going to make the company the most money. So knowing that and understanding that and getting away from this kind of sad mentality of “well what can I do… This is always going to be stacked against me”, immediately starts making you understand the action steps that you need to take.

If the company is worried about their bottom line and figuring out how to make money and figuring out how you contribute to that, then the actions that you need to take to set yourself apart and start hitting that glass ceiling are showing how you contribute to the bottom line and how you’re going to make the company money and why you’re the best person for the job regardless of what your gender is. So, for me it’s always one of those things with, the action is, you have to understand where it comes from and then figure out what your actions are going to be.

Mac Prichard:

So think about what motivates your employer and the point you’re making is that it’s the bottom line. What can you do to make the organization more profitable, or if you’re working perhaps for a non-profit, that contributes to that organizations mission. Is there something different? I think that’s good advice for any employee, whatever their gender.

Elisa Doucette:

Uh huh.

Mac Prichard:

Is there something different that women should do in addition to that in order to overcome these barriers that are in fact based on their gender?

Elisa Doucette:

You have to understand if that’s the role that you want to take and that’s the ambition that you want to have, that glass ceiling is still there. It’s keeping down women. It’s keeping down men who have those same values. It’s constantly skewed against you so you really have to kind of develop a thick skin and an iron will to be quite frank. You need to understand that you know people are going to say and do things that are basically going to fly in the face of you being as successful or as apt and skilled as you are. You are going to constantly have those people who don’t share the values of work-life balance, being willing to just completely railroad you to get to where they want their ambitions to be.

There’s you know kind of the hangover from the 80’s of the tiger women of wall street. The women who had to like learn to play like men and basically learned to railroad all of the people around them and I don’t think that that’s the healthy or safe narrative for any agile company that wants to grow and not completely burn out their employees. It’s certainly not the way that we as people should be approaching our jobs, wherein they’re the be all end all and we’re willing to, you know, sell anyone to be able to get to where we are.

But you do have to understand and accept that as a women it’s going to be a struggle sometimes. The odds aren’t stacked in your favor. So you can either whine about it and be upset about it and just completely talk about how unfair the situation is, or you can continue doing things that continue showing how amazing you are and that’s really what puts you ahead.

Mac Prichard:

So Elisa, what are your three best tips for how someone can indeed show that they are amazing and move ahead?

Elisa Doucette:

I am a big fan of, like I said, with that company knowing how you contribute to the company line and the company profits and everything. If there’s stuff that you’re doing, don’t just do the work. Also have the metric and the analytics behind you to show how the work that you did contributed to an increase in your company, your department, your teams’ success rate.

Secondly women, you know, have to definitely be more willing to stand up and kind of defend themselves. There’s a lot of talk of women being talked over. Women being ignored. Women being just completely ignored in meetings and different things through no point of, a lot of people will call it down to misogyny, but it’s really just the innate nature of what our culture has set up. So the second thing is women just need to be able to speak up and be willing to, you know, talk over the other people in the room. You know, you may be thought of as not the best person in terms of being a woman for that, but as long as you’re respectful and contributing good ideas and opinions and helping the company, you may not be liked, but you’ll be respected. Which is a very real thing in the kind of breaking through of the glass ceiling.

And I think the third thing that women really need to do is figure out what your priorities are. Figure out who you are and what’s important to you in both business and your personal life and that way you’re better able to kind of draw the barriers and distinctions of what you’ll say yes to at work, what you’ll say no to at work, what you’ll say yes to at home, what you’ll say no to at home. Understanding kind of how to better meld your life into your professional life so that it can be something you’re happy with because unhappy people, I tend to find, are some of the least productive human beings ever.

Mac Prichard:

Yea. I think that’s true for any worker, no matter what their gender. Well Elisa, this has been very useful and great advice. Where, tell us what’s coming up next for you.

Elisa Doucette:

I never really have a next. I run an online editorial agency so I am pretty much constantly just working on that, so that’s what’s next for me. And what I enjoy doing the most, is working with authors and entrepreneurs to kind of make their writing better and make their writing something they can be proud of.

Mac Prichard:

Well we’ll include a link to your agency in the show notes for the benefit of our listeners. They can find you there at and I know you’re on Twitter as well. Your Twitter handle is @elisadoucette and your Instagram handle is elisa_doucette and there will be links to all three of those accounts in the show notes.

Elisa, thanks for joining us today and especially, I know it’s very late for you in Europe so, appreciate you being on the show.

Elisa Doucette:

Absolutely. Thanks for having me.

Mac Prichard:

Well we’re back at the Mac’s List studio with Jenna and Ben. What are some key take-aways that you have from that conversation? Jenna would you like to go first?

Jenna Forstrom:

Yeah. My biggest take-away was just to speak up and know that its, you’re going to probably be viewed as like a pushy women, but that’s the only way that in most businesses that you’re going to get heard. Like no ones, no male co-worker is going to probably come over and ask for your thoughts and opinions so you need to be very, very proactive in an almost pushy way to get your points across.

The flipside of that is I work with two guys and I’m really thankful that I feel like you guys treat me as a common person so it’s a moot point for me, but if you’re working in a larger organization definitely just constantly prove your worth and push out and get your thoughts and opinions heard and find, I guess like helpers, like influencers or managers that are willing to help you out and get your voice heard as well.


Ben Forstag:

Well first Jenna, let me say you’re not a common person to me. You’re an elite aristocrat in this office.

Jenna Forstrom:

I’m the loud obnoxious one whether or not I’m a woman, right?

Ben Forstag:

I wouldn’t say that. No, we love having you here. You know, I think you know, I have to be honest. I think the issue here is the insidiousness of the glass ceiling is that you’re damned if you do and damned if you don’t, right? That is you don’t speak up you end up being passed over, and if you do speak up, if you’re a woman, you tend to be seen as being pushy or unmanageable. And fortunately for me, like that’s not something I’ve had to experience in my life, but I know plenty of other women in my life who have and it’s a frustrating situation to be in.

The one piece of advice I thought Elisa offered that was really good, was to quantify your successes and your accomplishments with some good solid metrics, because the numbers don’t lie at the end of the day and if you have good numbers to back up the kind of value you bring to the organization, whether it’s the amount of revenue you bring in, or how you’ve advanced the organizations mission, or how you’ve increased the organizations standing with customers or others, that’s gold. And that’s something I think anyone, particularly women, can hold up to show like “Here’s the value that I brought to the table”.

Mac Prichard:

I also liked Elisa’s point about knowing the employers self-interest and this plays to the point you just made Ben, which is the bottom line, but think about what is going to make your manager or your employer or their CEO, Presidents life easier. Figure that out and not only document that you’re doing that, but find new ways of doing it as well. And I also just want to say it’s a pleasure having you here as well Jenna. I don’t think of you as common or pushy at all, but it’s Jenna who’s making the show great.

Jenna Forstrom:

Aww. Thanks guys.

Mac Prichard:

Yeah, and this is a real issue I, it’s a huge problem. It’s not going to go away overnight. There are things that we can do individually, but it’s a big problem. I was amazed once, and it effects how we behave in the workplace. I was in a leadership program once with people from large employers across Oregon and there was a lady who, very good at her job, ran corporate communications for a health care organization, and she told me that she never took notes in meetings when she was early and in mid-career because people would then ask her to type them up and they would behave towards her as if she were an assistant. And it was just very illuminating for me to hear that because I love to take notes. I don’t think twice about it or how it might affect how people perceive me. It’s a way for me to learn and it helps me get better at my job but if I were a different gender I might not be taking notes.

Ben Forstag:

Yeah. That’s what they call privilege.

Mac Prichard:

Well thank you both and thank you, our listeners, for joining us.

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