The term glass ceiling refers to “the unseen and inaccessible barrier” that restrains women from the rising to the top, regardless of their qualifications or accomplishments. As men hold 80% of management positions globally (now the percentage is decreasing gradually due to increase in awareness of gender diversity), most opportunities for leadership roles are communicated among them, resulting in women getting less access to these opportunities.

On 3rd December 2018, Raj Kumar Paramanathan discussed the impact of the “gentlemen’s club” alongside with other inspiring panelists including Roshan Thiran, Founder & CEO of Leaderonomics, who moderated the session, Rina Neoh, CEO of Ficus Venture Capital, Dr. Nurmazilah Dato’ Mazhan, CEO Malaysian Institute, Azwan Baharuddin, Country Managing Director Accenture and Dato Dr. Jessie Tang, Executive Director & CEO East West Horizon Plantation at the Big Tulip Summit – “Women Inspiring Women Programme 2018" organized by the by Othman Yeop Abdullah Graduate School of Business, Universiti Utara Malaysia. The summit with the theme “Power of Purpose, Positivity and Influence” was officiated by the Malaysian Deputy Prime Minister YAB Dato’ Seri Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail.

Raj expounded on his experiences with placements of female leaders through CnetG and IRC and the challenges at the session titled ‘Leadership at the Peak: Is it very much a Gentlemen’s Club’.

The gentlemen’s club refers to an unseen barrier that restrains women from the rising to the top, regardless of their qualifications or accomplishments. Contrary to the popular belief, this barrier may not actually be due to gender disparities. It might be their limited network. While women’s circles have expanded over the recent years, influential male leaders are still isolated from these circles and very
much engaged in their Boy’s Club. This results in more men having the opportunity to transition into C-suite or board roles. The discussion revealed many interesting insights through personal experiences and business life.

According to Raj’s opinion, which resonated with that of the other speakers, the Boys Club does exists, “It is either a visible or invisible network that leverages on the camaraderie men build amongst themselves. This results in them supporting each other and trading favors as they know each other better. There is also more tolerance for faults and imperfections.

“Men don’t mind asking for favors, while women find that it’s not congenial to do the same.” Raj mentioned. The club may not be a formal network such as women networks and bonding takes place in the everyday life, as for instance, on golf courses or during lunches. Thus, women are not blocked consciously, but patterns show that men rather invite their fellow male colleagues to lunch or gatherings as they are assuming that their female colleagues would not be able to join due to various assumptions known as the “unconscious bias”.

Raj further added that “as men hold 80% of management positions worldwide, they tend to pass promotion opportunities to their male colleagues within their circle. This happens at board as well as
management levels.”

He also mentioned that the women networks are designed to discuss social issues or personal challenges but lack in supporting each other’s career. This might be also due to the nature of women who tend to ask less for favors compared to their male counterparts and besides that, women evaluate more factors before making important career decisions.

“We talk about the glass ceiling. I talk about the sticky floor. At work, female executives should utilize the benefits offered.”, Raj advised. He highlighted the importance of recognizing self-limiting beliefs that can stop from progressing and recommends strengthening the power of women circles by lobbying for more male leaders to support the network through role modeling, sharing sessions and mentoring. This will only increase visibility and power of the network. Thinking further, Raj expounded the idea of getting sponsors on board that help advocate the network’s members.

“The conversation must continue.”, Raj passionately said, “Not just for us but for our future generation where men and women support each other, providing equal opportunities in all aspects of life.”

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