These are five signs you’ve created your own ‘glass ceiling’ in the workplace, according to Karen Loon, Author.

The metaphor of the glass ceiling has made women and marginalised people feel seen, heard and understood for decades.

It speaks to the challenges these groups can face when seeking career advancements – and there sure are plenty. Karen Loon is a Non-Executive Director who specialises in workplace diversity and inclusion. In her research and experience, she has witnessed some of the barriers that exist for culturally diverse employees.

For people of colour, minorities and women, many of these barriers highlight why the Australian workforce needs a complete reset so that opportunities are granted to everyone – not just your typical middle-aged white male CEO.

“Things are changing in the workforce as a whole, but we need to keep spearheading this subject,” Karen explained to Mamamia.

Recently, The Guardian reported that in Australia there are 14 female chief executives among the nation’s top 200 companies, with women comprising 28 per cent of all senior roles. As for cultural diversity in this area, it’s getting better but certainly isn’t at a desired level.

However, the change is occurring.

Even in Australian politics, things are beginning to evolve – a record number of Indigenous women were elected to parliament this year, as well as a number of additional fellow people of colour.

As Karen said: “Many companies are now trying to foster more inclusive environments which is great. But in the meantime, it’s wise to examine what individuals can do themselves to create their own opportunities in the workforce.”

From learning to be a bit more assertive, to key skills such as adaptability and resilience, here’s what Karen has dubbed the five signs that you may have created your own glass ceiling in the workplace.

1. What may have worked for you in the past may not work for you in the future. 

When people commence a new role, they mainly focus on demonstrating their technical skills – whether it be attention to detail, accounting work, the manual labour associated, etc.

And although this is crucial, Karen noted that it’s also good to keep in mind the importance of soft skills – and showing them off.

“When you become more senior or are looking for a senior role, your soft skills and ability to lead and influence become a lot more important. Sometimes I think we feel that those technical skills are the focus but actually centreing on them too much could hold you back.”

2. Build out your circle – and diversify it. 

Like with every facet of life, the more diversity you have around you and more people you meet from different walks of life, the better your communication and understanding of the world will be.

“You could be holding yourself back if you limit yourself to people who are exactly like you. And it’s obviously very easy to build relationships with people around you who are similar,” Karen said to Mamamia.

“Particularly the research has found that people from diverse gender or cultural backgrounds prefer to bond with those like them. But the research also found that your career success will be greater if you bond with people who are not like you – people who think differently, have different mindsets and skills. This is particularly crucial for entrepreneurial people.”

3. Don’t let your imposter syndrome kidnap you.

“We talk a lot about feeling like an imposter or a fraud. In different cases, you feel really uncomfortable. And so sometimes you feel that you don’t deserve that success, putting yourself down and not believing in your abilities,” Karen explained.

For Karen, she has found that all the successful business leaders she has spoken to, they have at one point felt like a fraud. But they’ve managed to push against it – and thrive in the process.

“It’s a normal feeling to have, and shows a level of humility, but it’s also key not to let your imposter syndrome win. Because when we take a chance, try new things and get uncomfortable – that’s actually a part of the learning process.”

4. Don’t just rely on your university or tertiary experience – consistent education is key. 

For those who choose or are able to attend university or tertiary education, we get our degree and swear never again to step foot into a school. Because after so many years in a strict education environment, it can feel liberating to have it all over and get ahead to the next chapter.

And although this is an understandable feeling, Karen said it’s worthwhile to remember that consistent education and training is what will make you stand out from the crowd.

“If you believe that your university experience is enough to succeed in your career, you may hit a ceiling. External study or learning on the job is crucial throughout the rest of your career. Technology is constantly changing, so are processes and our perceptions of communication – and with all this comes the opportunity to learn more and develop.”

As Karen said, education in adulthood doesn’t have to be sitting in a classroom like when we were younger. In this instance it’s far broader – think external courses or short development programs, learning a new skill or technology or finding an insightful mentor.

5. Learn how to manage your stress. 

Last but certainly not least, it’s the topic all of us harp on about a lot – but there’s a reason for it. Because stress is something we all experience. But chronic, perpetual stress is debilitating – and it can impact our level of performance and output, meaning opportunities for job progression shrink.

Of course, stress in the workplace is often associated with the organisation, work culture, or workload. But as Karen noted, in some cases, we tend to put too much pressure on ourselves to perform to an unattainable level we have created for ourselves. And that’s what we want to avoid.

“All careers today are stressful. And particularly since COVID, we’ve actually all had the experiences of stress. A little bit of stress can sometimes make people perform better, but the negative side of it is when it leads to overwhelm. ‘Control freak’ behaviour is something no one wants to be associated with, so it’s important not to let our anxieties rule us.”

Learning to manage stress is something that every aspiring leader needs. So it’s better to try and get on top of things sooner, rather than later when the beast has grown.

“Sometimes under stress, we just keep doing the things that may not necessarily help us, because what’s helped us in the past may not actually be the right answer in the future,” Karen said.

“Everyone has challenges. And what I’ve aimed to always do is summarise the challenges that people have learned from. And I think, for the people who have become successful leaders, they have reflected on what they’d learned, and then learn how to adapt and use situations to their advantage.”

Karen Loon has released a new book ‘Fostering Culturally Diverse Leadership in Organisations: Lessons from Those Who Smashed the Bamboo Ceiling.’ To purchase a copy of the book, and for more from Karen, you can visit her website

Feature Image: Getty/Mamamia.

First published by Mamamia on 24 September 2022.  To read click here.