Does the ‘Glass Ceiling’ apply to Millennials?

The author lists down some sure-fire ways of overcoming the obstacles that come in the way of career advancement, especially for millennials with high potential who set themselves up against the proverbial ‘glass ceiling’, albeit unwittingly.

Hi-Potential Millennials continue to do well and enjoy fast-paced growth up to a certain point in career. Then they seem to have hit a ‘Glass Ceiling’ and are not able to get into the coveted leadership roles despite their best efforts. They find themselves in a unique predicament, that though the organisation appreciates their contribution, it is never enough to get them the seat at the CEO’s table.

Getting stuck even earlier!

Millennials get stuck at early stages in career as well and often blame the organisation, leadership, circumstances and give up on the progression. Then they look for change. The turnover is higher. Average jobs last 3-4 years or less. The millennial turnover costs billions to the industry.

There is a huge cost of this turnover to the millennials too, as more often than not, it leads to mediocre and unfulfilling careers.

The changing work environment

Flatter organisation, faster growing organisations, increasing globalisation are leading to broadening of the scope this specific scenario. Many millennials find themselves stuck with no clue as to how they got into the situation. If you are one such millennial, please continue to read. Today we will discuss how you can go about transforming your situation.

How can millennials break out of this stalemate?

The world of growth and promotions seems hazy and not getting ahead makes you feel like a loser. However, it will not be wrong to say that the path to success lies to through some personal transformations. If you are feeling stuck, and not able to pin point what is holding you back, the following few steps will prepare you for career growth and will enable you to break through the ‘Glass Ceiling’.

Goal setting

In a Harvard study1 conducted years back, researchers found that only 13 per cent of the graduates from its 1979 MBA program had goals. Just 3 per cent of them had their goals clearly written down and had created plans to accomplish them. Ten years later, they found out that the 13 per cent who had goals were earning twice compared to those who had no goals. And the 3 per cent who wrote down their goals were earning 10 times!

Having a goal is more than knowing the next few milestones.

Goal is like the guiding star. You continue to make progress by achieving new milestones, but you make sure that you are moving towards the guiding star. Every time you reach crossroads, you look at the guiding star and then choose your path. You do not let the better-looking path guide you to a new destination.

Goal will help you plot the milestones and take less-travelled paths to achieve your true potential.

Horizontal growth

What does promotion mean? If you are an individual contributor and the next promotion does not expand your scope of work, but gives you more money, will you consider it a promotion? Many millennials fall into this trap and find that they are not really making career progress.

It is very likely that you will reach a point in your career, where the next role that you are looking at, seems like a very big jump in terms of capability. You may not find the relevant support within your organisation to get back to growth; so, the onus for growth falls back to you.

What can you do to change your situation?

It is prudent to acknowledge your situation and set on to the path of ‘horizontal growth’. The horizontal growth may not give you immediate rewards but will help to reduce the gap between you and the role you aspire. After successful horizontal role(s), you will be again be ready for the vertical growth that you have been eyeing from the beginning.

Beyond the JD

Harvey Mudd College in Claremont, California is rated the best college in the Undergraduate Engineering programs by US News, though they do not even offer any specialisation and have only one engineering major. Their students are one of the highest paid in the industry. Wonder why? They heavily rely upon the fact that most of the problems are multidisciplinary and that we need generalists who can cut across these disciplines to help find effective solutions.

You must know that this is true for most of the problems you face today at your organisations. Rarely any problem can be effectively solved within one vertical and rarely can we make change in one area without affecting many other interdependent areas. We need people who can look beyond their ‘Job Description’.

There is a need to work across boundaries, to collaborate and co-create with other entities or groups both internal and external to help develop and grow the organisation. Millennials who are capable of solving multi-disciplinary problems rarely hit a ‘Glass Ceiling’. They have too much value.


As the organisations become highly matrixed and adopt flatter structures, you need to develop relationships beyond your function even for day-to-day work.

Your work and your career growth will most likely be impacted if you do not have the right relationships. Beyond a point in career (and that point is somewhere in mid-management), ‘Who Knows What You Know?’ matters more than ‘What You Know’.

The CXOs who are responsible for hiring for the position you are seeking lay a lot of emphasis on the confidence they have on the candidates. Confidence begins with familiarity and shared connections and as such it is imperative that you build the right relationships. Nurturing these relationships is an absolute key to getting those roles that you desire.

Learning and development

Success is your friend, it gets you all that you desire – recognition, wealth, respect and many such things. Can you believe it can also be your enemy? Success can bring with itself arrogance, overconfidence, and self-importance. If your success makes you believe that you have learned all you had to, then you may not progress beyond a level and hit that ‘Glass Ceiling’. You must always be learning and growing. Even purest water may start stinking if it stays stagnant for long.

It is indeed difficult to teach successful people new things unless they fail first. Would you like to fail before you realise your mistake? Would you realise that you are not up to the next level, only when the next level is denied to you? If you stop learning, you may be setting yourself up for a failure.

There is no dearth of content and neither any limit to the formats in which the content is available. 300+ TED talks are published every year (more than one for each day). Focus on what aligns best with your development needs for the next role and keep on clocking the ‘learning hours’.

Each of these is an important step towards achieving your potential. Make progress on even a single one and you will improve your chances of your success many folds. But I sincerely hope you focus on all five of them.

(Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of YourStory.)


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