DEI and the Invisible Glass Ceiling: How to Combat Unconscious Bias 

Sitting in a meeting talking about DEI, I realized I had been here before. The room was filled with people who looked like me, and they were talking about all the things they were doing to help people who looked like me. They were talking about the strategies they were using to help people who looked like me. They were talking about how they would recruit more people who looked like me into their organization. They talked about all the things they had done and all the things they would do to make sure that everyone felt included and valued, but no one mentioned what was happening in front of my eyes: People who looked like me were being left out of the conversation. The problem wasn’t that no one looked like me in the company but that no one looked like me in their leadership

Where’s the Diversity at the Top?  

I wish I could give you the magic answer to this question, but unfortunately, there is no one silver bullet to address this problem. The truth is that this issue is complex and multi-faceted. There are a variety of factors that contribute to why marginalized communities are often left out of company leadership roles. This includes things like unconscious bias and the “glass ceiling.”   

The metaphorical “glass ceiling” in corporate settings generally refers to the limited growth potential of a position or job role, especially where compensation and leadership are concerned. Someone with a bachelor’s degree and 15 years of experience in a company may find the end of their career growth ladder unless they go back to school or cross over to another company that values their unique experience. But what about marginalized groups who hit the “ceiling?”   

In DEI, the glass ceiling is a term that describes the barrier preventing minorities from rising to the top of their organizations. It’s not so much a literal ceiling as it is an invisible limitation, one you might not even realize is there until you start moving toward it and suddenly find yourself hitting a roadblock. The concept can be applied more broadly than just race, gender, or sexual orientation. There are many ways people can be marginalized in work environments, such as being disabled or living with mental health problems.   

The idea of “breaking through” the glass ceiling has become so prevalent that we forget another issue exists: once you break through the first layer of your company’s hierarchy, what happens next? You still have to climb up all those steps again because of unconscious bias against people who don’t look or think like everyone else at higher levels in your organization (and no one has mentioned this). 

Reflect on what can be done about the DEI “glass ceiling”?  

Unconscious bias is a real issue that needs to be addressed. We need to make room for difficult conversations about how we exclude people and actively work to change the systems that keep marginalized groups from advancing. But we also need to recognize that DEI cannot be solved by recruiting more people of color/women/LGBTQIA+ folks into our organizations. DEI should focus on creating an inclusive environment at all company levels. To create true equity, we need to invest in the development and success of everyone in our organizations, not just a select few. DEI is not a numbers game; it’s about valuing diverse perspectives and creating an environment where everyone can thrive.   

Ask yourself:  

“What can you do to create an inclusive environment in your organization?”  

 “How can you ensure everyone has a voice and an opportunity to succeed?”  

 DEI cannot be solved overnight, but it’s the good work that needs to be done to see our humanity move in the right direction. We all have a role to play in creating a more equitable world. Let’s start today

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