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Glass Ceiling - Fact or Fiction?

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Sheri Welsh

Personal success stories of women like Shayne Wheeler (featured in Tuesday's post) make me pause to consider - does the "glass ceiling" really still exist? Is it alive and well in Kalamazoo - or truly a relic of the past?

Coined in the early 1980s by a former editor of Working Woman Magazine, the glass ceiling concept quickly caught on as a term to describe an unseen, yet impenetrable barrier that keeps women from rising to top positions in the corporate world, despite their education, qualifications, and achievements. At that time, many rising professional women felt bound and hemmed in by the glass ceiling, unable to realize their full career potential which was blocked by male counterparts.

When you talk with women who launched their careers in the 80s you will hear examples of how they were passed over for promotions and raises, or not afforded the opportunities to learn and grow professionally that others in the organization were given. If it didn't happen to them, they probably knew of someone it did happen to.

In many cases, the glass ceiling forced talented women to seek out other avenues to success, such as finding new jobs with more progressive organizations, starting their own business, or even dropping out of the workforce altogether to raise a family. There is no doubt that the glass ceiling had a profound impact on many women in the formative early years of their career.

I'm a career woman of that era. And, although I certainly knew of and understood the concept, for some reason it never blocked me out of amazing opportunities in Kalamazoo, Michigan. Now, I could flatter myself, believing that my drive, ambition and hutzpah were such forces that they allowed me to crash through the barrier successfully, but come on. I'm just not that special. There are many, many women with determination far greater than mine that have hit the ceiling hard - and bounced out.

So what is it that made my experience so different from many of my peers across the country? I'm fairly certain it had a lot to do with the unique and progressive attitudes of the Kalamazoo community.

What I found when I arrived in Kalamazoo in the mid-80s still holds true today. The region is a welcoming, diversity appreciating, "what's good for one is good for all" community which truly embraces and encourages the success of everyone regardless of gender. The Kalamazoo Promise for example speaks loudly to that idea.

Women leaders are found in abundance in Kalamazoo, whether as elected officials, college presidents, non-profit executive directors, superintendents, small business owners, or corporate executives. I think it's pretty safe to say that Kalamazoo is an area that practices what it preaches.

Today, many professional women will not even recognize the term "glass ceiling." It's as foreign a concept to their work environment as a rotary phone or White-Out. I'm really proud to be a part of a community which lifts up women like Shayne Wheeler to realize their full potential - a community where the glass ceiling was just never installed.

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