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The Ladder is the Problem

When it comes to careers, why are we always talking about the ladder and how to climb it?

The short answer is, the ladder reflects a familiar and often unconscious norm. The ladder model is based on, and thus plays into, biased patriarchal structures. It is not unlike the Lean In model, which puts the onus on women to do the work of leaning in; despite the fact that success also relies on men leaning out. Further, the problems with the ladder model are not just about gender. Consider who is at the top? Generally speaking, it’s White, straight, able-bodied, men.

Those at the top of the ladder, those who hold the power, continue to define what success and power mean; so too do they determine how to attain success and power. Those seeking to successfully participate in the ladder model, often feel immense pressure to adopt ways of being that may differ significantly from their natural inclinations; often code switching or adopting values and expressions of being that do not align with who they actually are.

The ladder model forces us to participate in a structure that, for the majority of us, feels both familiar, yet, foreign. We are, after all, born our best selves. The ladder forces us to disassociate from that innate understanding. Instead of trying to figure out how to successfully ascend the ladder, perhaps it is time to question the structure itself. The structure - the ladder - may be what ails us.

In this election season, I am struck by the words of the Declaration of Independence: “All men are created equal.” These words literally meant all white, land-owning, men. This is both the foundation of American political, social and economic structures and the foundation of the ladder model, which supports these foundational structures. Is it any wonder that there is both resistance to this model and backlash against those resisting it?

On Thursday morning, Nov 12, the Shift, sponsored by Newaukee, featured six panelists discussing “Laddering Up: The Glass Ceiling is Broken, Now What?” I was one of them. While, I might have preferred a discussion on tearing the ladder down, there was still much to learn. Check it out.



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