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The Mass Media

The Mass Media

‘Breaking The Glass Ceiling: The Journey’

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The panelist accepting flowers after Q&A

In the midst of end-of-the-semester preparations, it is sometimes necessary to take a step back and look at the big picture of what we are really working towards on the University of Massachusetts Boston campus.
On Nov. 20, the women of the Sigma Xi Chapter of Sigma Gamma Rho Sorority worked with those of the UMass Boston chapter, Strong Women, Strong Girls, to help remind the student body of acknowledging the obstacles women may face as they move up in the professional world. Breaking The Glass Ceiling: The Journey was the university’s first Annual Women’s panel, in which five panelists and one moderator discussed their struggles, successes, and advice regarding dealing with the “glass ceiling” most women face.
So what is this “glass ceiling”?
“As you begin to ascend through your career, there is a proverbial ‘glass ceiling’ that does not let you go but [this] high, and you keep butting heads with it. It was a concept that grew out of second wave feminism,” Akilah Johnson, moderator of the panel and reporter with the Boston Globe, clarified. “Women who have broken through have reached the upper levels of their professional careers, where usually there are very few women.”
Susan Windham-Bannister, founding president and CEO of the Massachusetts Life Sciences Center (MLSC), confirmed Akilah’s point of few women making it to the top.
“I think in the life sciences where I work, the proportion of women and certainly people of color in positions of authority is really very thin. I think the glass ceiling is very real,” she said.
All of the panelists agreed that a big factor in learning how to navigate the work place is knowing how to read environments and determine who your real mentors are — the people who will support and teach you how to keep moving forward. The big thing about finding an appropriate mentor is that it has nothing to do with gender.
“My boss wanted me to get a male mentor. She thought, ‘You need to act like a man. You need to work like a man.’ It didn’t work. And you know what I took from this experience?” said Shirley Fan-Chan, the director of U-Access at UMass Boston. “I don’t need to learn from only men. I can learn from women. If you want to be a successful leader, you have to be able to learn from anyone you feel comfortable with.”
The discussion of women’s progress in the workplace undoubtedly brings up the question of feminism and what it means for people today. The negative connotation of the word is misguided, as Julie Nelson, professor and Chair of the Economics Department of UMass Boston, acknowledged.
“I hate how the term feminism has been hijacked to mean ‘man-hating.’ I’ve heard a lot of people say that feminism is narrow, that it only looks at part of humanity. But I think one hundred percent of humanity can be feminist. I don’t think it’s an exclusionary term. To me feminism just means that you believe women are full human beings,” she said.
Lisa Buenaventura, the Interim Co-Vice Cancellor for Student Affairs, added to the thought.
“The second part of feminism is about empowerment. It’s how you help other women move forward as well, and how you support them,” she said.
The ladies of the panel emphasized the importance of embracing who you are as a woman as you move along the professional ladder.
“Just because you declare yourself a feminist does not mean you cannot also be feminine. You’re a woman. This is our gender and we should never deny that,” said Fan-Chan.
The panelists advised on anything from managing money as you further your education, to finding yourself and having a voice. The kind of advice they had to offer did not stop with women — all students can learn from what they had to say. But the reality of the glass ceiling for women is undeniable, and it is important women learn what resources they have to make progress in their lives.
Furthermore, as Helena Santos, Dean of Advising and First Year Programs at Lasell College, reminded the audience to remember, they all deserve to know the worth of our contributions.
“There are people who believe, whether because you’re female, or because of your background, or because of the way you speak, that you don’t belong at the table. And you do,” she said.