How to fly above the silver ceiling

Picture of Anna Letitia Cook
Anna Letitia Cook

Energising International Executives for more successful, productive, fulfilling leadership
International Executive and Holistic Success Coach | Author | Podcast Presenter | 30+ years working internationally

What is the infamous silver ceiling and how does it relate to you? There are two types of definition:

  • 1An unspoken barrier to promotion that is experienced by some older employees. A silver ceiling may exist because management believes older employees are not sufficiently innovative, or simply because they are too close to retirement to implement a long-term vision.
  • 2A set of attitudes and prejudices that prevent older employees from rising to positions of power or responsibility in a workplace.

The first concerns practical results, the second a mentality. You need to be aware of the two and analyse which is most apparent in your company and your direct hierarchy.

You also need to look at yourself within this definition! Which applies to you? Are you still innovative and with long-term vision? Do you unconsciously bracket some of the 50+ members of your organisation as ‘past it’? If so, why? They may have just stopped bothering and become lazy or lacking interest – BUT are you putting everyone in the same basket just because of a few ‘rotten apples’? If so, think again! This type of person can exist at all ages unfortunately – something to point out to colleagues who are ‘bracketing’ older people.

What can you do to show that you are still a rising star whatever your age? Try these:

  1. Be innovative – Every industry has trade journals/magazines/communities that focus on the latest innovations and developments. Read them and talk about it, at least once a week! Bring up some of these ideas in meetings. Be sure you mention your take on these to your boss and higher ups as well as your other colleagues. This way you get a reputation for being the ‘go to’ person for new and current trends.

Here is an exercise to develop this:

– Read an article each day on something innovative or a new trend developing in your industry.

– Several times a week quickly write down 5 innovative or interesting, progressive thoughts you have had drawn from the ideas in the articles. Doesn’t matter how crazy they seem, write them down anyway, you are training the brain to be more dynamic and creative. It is a muscle like any other and needs regular stretching to keep it bouncing!

– See how these thoughts could link or be adapted to your job, department, company

– Every week talk about ‘your’ new idea/vision, using the source as proof, or an example, of why your idea is valuable/dynamic/effective.

  1. Show long-term vision – As well as the above, join industry and trend setting forums or groups on LinkedIn. Here you have the opportunity to discuss your own and other people’s ideas. Use this to develop longer term vision and strategy that can be beneficial to your company. Interact with the group members and use their reaction as a sounding block to your idea/vision, then when you feel you have refined the idea suitably, send an email to your boss or relevant person. Suggest a meeting with a few colleagues to see how it could be implemented and the increased efficiency/productivity it could provide for the company over the long term.

N.B. I would suggest starting with easy, simple ideas to begin with, and increase to bigger and better ones over a fee months.

  1. Work on changing attitudes – This is more of an ongoing process which needs to be dealt with tactfully and intelligently. By your own behaviour you can already set a good example to change this mindset. Also, drip feed, at every opportunity, compliments about, and examples of, older people doing something well. In particular, try using phrases like ‘well, obviously with her years of experience, she is the ideal person to solve this’ or something along those lines… Highlighting that it is her age and many years at work that make her so valuable and having such excellent skills/knowledge, is a very positive way to slowly change people’s attitudes. Bring into conversation that so many high flyers these days are older women, e.g. Christine Lagarde, Angela Merkel, Indra Nooyi, Marillyn Hewson, Carolyn McCall etc and making the point that at this stage women are redynamised because they have so much more freedom and energy, children left home, confidence, focus etc… You can also use statistics on the advantages of mature women in the workplace, the benefits that they give the company. Some people will remain bigoted forever, but many will simply be unthinking and your information can be a key step in changing their outlook, benefitting you, other 50+ colleagues, the company and the colleague whose mind you have just opened – a win-win situation!




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