Can’t break through the glass ceiling? Why women need to start building tunnels instead

Are you exhausted from trying to shatter the glass ceiling that stops so many women from achieving the success they deserve? Find out why Georgia Varjas believes women should start building tunnels. 

When I look back at my 25 years in the music business, I remember exciting nights of wild, wonderful music, applause and chants for more.

I remember the excitement, the bright coloured lights and those sweet, late sessions after the music stopped. I also vividly recall the slippery, greasy feel of my attempts to advance or stretch up above my position as a female musician.

Even in my thirties, I was a ‘girl sax player’. Once, out on the streets busking, playing popular tunes (those early days, when I turned my rehearsals into making some money), a man in his forties approached me and said, “Go back to the kitchen”!

I have had smoke blown down the bell of my sax, beer thrown over my head while playing a solo and numerous jibes about my clothes and body parts. (Either they were too big or not big enough) The list of insults could fill a book. In fact, my next best- seller will be called: Me and nine men in a van.

Why are we threatened by ambitious women?

So, I did what Alice did (in Wonderland) I started to shrink. I wore a lot of black clothes and I looked around for role models. I watched Cher and Madonna re-invent themselves and thought I had to do the same. I went for auditions with confidence all over my face and in my stride.

I shook off the black robes and put on the lipstick and high heels (by the way, neither are aligned with playing a wind instrument). And still, the disappointment in the faces of my male employers pervaded. After all, I was just a girl saxophonist they said.

Why do we feel threatened by a woman who is ambitious, confident and competent? Why are we still suspicious that she must be a bitch, corrupt, an heiress and a whore?

Ambitious men are desirable, praised and promoted. But a woman?

We stil have many battles to fight for equality

The headlines and statistics show the progress, the data and figures appear to reveal the rise of the feminine. There is no doubt that we can vote, own property, have a bank account, get divorced and sell our souls to the commercial devils of this world as competently as men.

However, men are paid two and a half times more per hour than women on average at banking group HSBC, the largest gender pay gap reported to date by a major UK company.

There are laws and schemes in place, yet still companies like EasyJet and Virgin Money are among those that have revealed a gap of more than 30% in the mean hourly pay rates between male and female workers.

Domestic violence is on the increase. A total of 113 women were killed by men in England, Wales and Northern Ireland in 2016 — and 90 per cent of these victims were murdered by someone they knew, according to the latest Femicide Census report.

The casting couch has revealed a thousand more stories of abuse, mental, emotional and physical, exposing the imposition of male power and hatred over women. It is a global affair, atrocities against your mother, sister, aunt, daughter and girlfriend fills news reports every minute of the day.

This year on March 8, international women’s day there was a demonstration in India. A banner was carried that for me puts into clear context the first steps for change: “Men control yourselves, not us”

Ambitious women are labelled ‘bossy’

In 2012, I wrote and published a poem about the glass ceiling. I created an imaginary female character that managed to slip through the glassy ceiling into the chief executives office. She sprayed Chanel perfume and removed all the stag heads. It was witty and sarcastic with strong associations to the 1980 film,

9 to 5, an office satire about three female secretaries who decide to get revenge on their tyrannical, sexist boss by abducting him and running the business themselves. It starred Dolly Parton, Lily Tomlin and Jane Fonda.

Now, with all the scandals of men in the movie business behaving badly, illegally and violently, a remake of this movie is on the cards. So, nothing has changed?

I reflect on the times I went for auditions and was told that girl sax players are just not aggressive. And when I proceeded to play as aggressively as I could, I was fired from the band a few days later on the grounds I was too aggressive.

I was confused. Being aggressive turned them on and off! I concluded that when a woman is ambitious, she is considered aggressive, bossy and opinionated. But for a man, it is a healthy and normal condition.

I felt trapped and hostility mushroomed up inside of me. I dug out my black outfits, threw away the lipstick and bought some sturdy boots.

I’m done trying to break through the glass ceiling – I’m building a tunnel instead

I did the aggressive and hostile act. I played tomboy and sex fiend. I protested and refused and lost a lot of work. The size and shape of my tits was more important than my ability to play the dam instrument!

“Give it up, No never! Yes tomorrow” was a mantra that made me crazy many a night. I was slipping and sliding all over that glass ceiling and getting nowhere.

I kept telling myself, God give me patience – like now, quickly! It seems that neither aggression nor patience will crack that glass.

My image of spraying Chanel and removing trophies seems like a naïve fantasy. Yes, the glass ceiling has a million more chinks and chasms, but I am done trying to break through it.

As a child, my parents instilled into me the idea that if you couldn’t get in the front door, you had to try the back door. If that was closed try a window and if that was blocked up, go down the chimney. And lastly, if all those avenues still prevented you from entering, you just had to build yourself a tunnel.

My personal and professional break through came to me while digging that tunnel. I was on the move again but this time horizontally. Spreading my wings East to West. All the ingredients I needed, I could carry with me. The two most powerful instruments a girl today needs; her voice and a pen.

Georgia will be giving a talk titled slipping and sliding on the glass ceiling at Entrepreneurial Leaders Live on 28 and 29 June 2018 – an event designed to help you identify your own personal and professional breakthroughs, and use those stories to stand out, get recognised and win more business. You can book your tickets here.