Who installs the glass ceiling?

Published 9:51 am Saturday, October 20, 2012

Every girl faces a certain moment. That moment when you realize those aren’t your glass slippers.

Come on ladies, you know the one I’m talking about. The moment you say to yourself: “That darn prince is never going to show up, and there’s no white horse in my stable.”

You hang up the idealistic Cinderella fairytale or the June Cleaver fantasy apron and get to work making something of yourself. You set out to chart your own course.

For some, this realization presents itself during college or shortly after graduation. For others it comes several years after joining the working world, getting married and starting a family.

I’m not certain when I realized that a full-time career would be my path. Perhaps it was while I watched my parents run their business for 20 years, or when I saw my mother go back to work for the state after closing that business.

When I was a child, my father told me, “Mary Ann, you can do anything you want to do if you set your mind to it. Get your education, work hard and you can determine your future.”

Not once did he ever say, “Now, once you get your education and start to work, watch out for that glass ceiling dear because it’s as far as you’ll go.”

He set my expectations high, and the rest was up to me. I realized early on that I could excel in whatever I put my mind to, whether it was selling bulldozers, baking a casserole or teaching a couple high school boys how to throw a curve ball. (Thanks Dad!)

During this political season, I’ve been insulted by the number of women and men who toss around the term “glass ceiling.” The term is defined as “the seen, yet unbreachable barrier that keeps minorities and women from rising to the upper rungs of the corporate ladder, regardless of their qualifications or achievements.”

I must have skipped that class in college, or maybe I was simply at work? I can’t remember. One thing I remember is that I have always had a choice.

A choice to study more and work harder; a choice to make that one more sales call at the end of the day that made the difference in monthly revenues and performance; a choice to either learn from my mistakes or blame someone else for holding me back.

Now mind you, I didn’t choose the most traditional path.

I worked for a trucking company, sold heavy equipment, and for the last 12 years, have worked in the construction aggregates mining industry.

I have been trained, coached, corrected and challenged. I have succeeded and I have failed. Not one time in my 16 years of employment has any one of my managers, leaders or coworkers said, “Hey Mary Ann, don’t bother striving for anything more! That’s as far as you can go — stop here. You’ve done all you ever will.”

In fact, it’s been quite the opposite. I have been encouraged, supported and challenged. I have earned the same opportunities and am compensated just as well as my male counterparts.

And I work in an industry where 91 percent of the employees are men. Girls, that’s not a glass ceiling; that’s equal opportunity.

Consider this. Has anyone ever given any thought to the fact that women have simply been in the proverbial working world a whole lot less time than our male friends? We girls have only been at this whole “working outside the home” thing for about 70 years now. The boys have been at it, well since the beginning of time.

Now folks, don’t get me wrong. Are there companies out there where women are paid less than men for the same role? Yes, there are.

Are there people out there who subscribe to the belief that a man can do a certain job better than a woman? You bet.

But my question is this. Do you subscribe to it? I choose not to.

Is one man or woman, one election or one vote going to change our society’s views? Nope. Only you can change it. Be responsible and accountable for your own successes and failures.

Refine your strengths and recognize your weaknesses as opportunities for personal development and growth. Find something you love to do, and when you look up, you won’t be blinded by the glare of the sun on that glass ceiling; you will see bright blue, endless sky.

You define your limitations, no one else. Now, will I ever be the chief executive officer of a Fortune 500 company or the governor of Virginia? No, probably not.

But make no mistake, it’s only because I didn’t want to.

MARY ANN CLARK is a sales representative in the construction aggregates industry, a Capron resident and is married to Tony Clark, associate publisher of The Tidewater News. She can be reached at mclark@luckstone.com.