All women know the business world no longer belongs to men. In the late 1980s, women started entering corporate management and have continued to increase their participation through the years. But the so-called glass ceiling still exists, and women must face challenges in advancement that men usually don't have to concern themselves with, especially in the construction industry.

According to a 2002 survey sponsored by Catalyst, a female-oriented business group, women must overcome male stereotyping and preconceptions, exclusion from informal networks of communication, and their lack of significant general management experience if they want to advance into upper-management positions.

If you're a woman working in the male-dominated sheet metal industry, you may have experienced some of these challenges in your own career. But these barriers can be broken. Keep in mind; it's a glass ceiling - not cement. When you understand and prepare yourself for these challenges, you can earn the position you've been striving to reach.

To beat any of these common roadblocks to advancement, try the following strategies:

Abandon the ‘secretarial' perspective

Women often enter the corporate world - as well as construction - at the secretarial level, which requires them to handle detail-oriented tasks that save the boss from disaster. But if you want to move to other positions or upper management, you may need to shift your focus from details to the big picture. Top managers can't be concerned with typing reports and filing data, or even product development or sales campaigns. They must focus on the grand strategy.

While women are perfectly capable of managing the grand strategy, they often allow their detail-oriented view to carry over from past roles. With this detail mind-set in place, you may also find it difficult to hand the details off to someone else and hold them accountable for them. If you want to be considered for an upper-level management position, you must approach your supervisors with big-picture ideas and insights.

Respect male egos

Most men don't respond well to bullying from other men, and they're even less likely to be positively influenced by such tactics from a woman. The object is not to demonstrate your superiority to your peers and subordinates, but rather to influence them to join you in advancing the interests of the company.

When conflicts arise, the key is to address issues, not personalities. Be clear in what you want, and don't back off timidly. Directly state your position, rather than using subtle hints. Let your associates know that you respect them, but let them know what you expect of them as well.

Look for the tough tasks

The best way to convince your male superiors that you're ready for more responsibility is to demonstrate your ability to handle the hard jobs. You know you are skilled and capable, so give yourself full credit for the assets you can offer your organization. Whenever you have the opportunity to volunteer for the tough tasks, jump at the chance.

Once you've done this a few times and demonstrated your capacity, you won't have to volunteer. The company will know they can turn to you, and will reward you for your reliability in a pinch.



Find an influential mentor

Some companies pair new employees with more experienced ones in formal mentoring programs. But in others, informal relationships form. These mentoring relationships can be between two people of the same sex or between people of different genders as long as the relationships remain business oriented.

While a male mentor may be able to teach a woman the ins and outs of the organization and serve as her advocate for advancement, a woman mentor may have more insight into the challenges women face in climbing the company's ladder. Essentially, you'll be one step ahead with the help and guidance of a mentor, whether that mentor is a man or a woman.

Be a horse, not a mule

Mules are smart and hardworking, but they don't compete like horses. While horses like to push themselves against competitors to win races, mules don't like to see their fellow mules lagging behind. That's why horses get all the glamorous, high-profile racing assignments and mules end up pulling supply wagons.

Women sometimes drop out of competitions for promotions, deferring to a man because, "he has a family to support." But in the business world, the higher positions go to the best-qualified person who wants the job bad enough to compete for it.

Take ‘intelligent' risks

Any woman who wants to move into management must also abandon the traditional role of keeper of the nest and move into a more adventurous posture. In other words, she must be ready to take some intelligent risks.

The woman who keeps a low profile will inevitably be overlooked. Therefore, you must think creatively and voice your ideas. If you want to move into a position responsible for profit and loss, you must be willing to analyze challenges, identify opportunities, devise strategies, and see them through. A can-do spirit will open doors to advancement.

Network toward the top

Networking is a powerful tool for women who want to climb to the top, and you must be alert for opportunities to meet and know the people who can help your career. A good place to look for these opportunities is in other women who've made it to the top, as many of them have hit the glass ceiling and branched out to form their own successful companies as a result, even in sheet metal. But don't limit yourself to other women. After all, most of the top decision makers are still men, and women will have to navigate primarily in male-majority environments.

Also, don't limit your networking efforts to your own company. Outside your organization, conferences, trade shows and seminars are great places to meet other people in your field, and they may be able to steer you toward job openings, business opportunities or other means of advancement.

Breaking barriers in the future

Although advancement is an uphill climb for men and women, it's steeper for women. Before a woman can enjoy the satisfaction of making major decisions, negotiating business deals, and exerting her influence over an organization, she must overcome many relic obstacles of the "man's business world." When you use these strategies for overcoming the barriers to success, you can prove your worthiness for upper-management positions and break through the glass ceiling without looking back.