Turning Worriers to Warriors: Defeating the Glass Ceiling on Women’s Day

The glass ceiling continues to affect thousands of women in the work force, acting as an unseen barrier, keeping many from advancing towards things they work hard for. Whether it is something that gets pushed upon you from others in the office, or self-placed, the glass ceiling is something that many face and try to fight every day.

To celebrate Women’s Day and the women in marketing and advertising, we spoke to Jenny Stanley from Femme Niche, a female empowering network, alongside members Puja Pannum and Sadia Akhter, to talk about the glass ceiling, fighting against external and internal pressures and a little more.

Even as women at the top of the fast-paced world of tech and marketing, they are part of a network aimed at supporting other women in multiple industries, and want to share how they fought through biased obstacles and how others can learn how to as well.

Jenny Stanley is founder and CEO of Appetite Creative Solutions, an award-winning creative technology company. Puja Pannum is Managing Director of Blis MENA, a global pioneer in advanced location data technology, and Sadia Akhter, the Managing Director of FreakOut MENA, a global  digital marketing technology company.

To truly celebrate women in the technology and marketing industries, it is clear that both men and women still have a bit to learn about how to notice and take action against the biased barriers pulling them from their goals. If you want to learn more about how we can fight subconscious bias and help destroy the glass ceiling, join Stanley at her workshop “Turning Worriers into Warriors” at this week’s Dubai Lynx. 


First of all, why did you feel that this is an important topic that needs to be discussed at Dubai Lynx? What is the main point/s that you want to share with others?

Jenny Stanley: “#metoo has been a hot topic and has gathered pace in recent months, but one of the things that was bothering me was a lack of practical knowledge about what to do.

In the session, we will like to share our thoughts over a variety of themes such as subconscious bias and the challenges surrounding this, the inner voice and how to overcome some challenges you might face in your career.

It’s not aimed only at women but at anyone who is interested in different thought process, looking outside the norm and seeing things from a different perspective. We recently hosted a Femme Niche event on Madrid on this topic and we will be sharing the input from an experienced and varied group of leading women.”

Puja Pannum: “When we look at our Tech and Media business, we are seeing more and more women entering into roles that were traditionally male dominated; engineering, computer Sciences, coding etc.

These discussions provide women with an opportunity to meet like-minded people and professionals to enable them to feel they can be successful in roles and be recognized as valuable contributors to businesses and academia.”

Sadia Akhter: The fact that these topics are now being openly discussed, means we’ve already started to address these very present challenges and are working towards a more balanced workplace. This discussion needs to be at the forefront because we are celebrating the hiring of the first ever female CEO at a global cosmetics brand, the first ever female CFO in automotive, very possibly the first ever female president of the United States of America.

What I find disheartening is that, in 2019, these appointments are being celebrated because of the gender of the person filling that role – we should have already moved beyond that and the appointment of the right person should be newsworthy, not their gender.


We know that the glass ceiling is famous for depicting women’s hurdles and obstacles, but not many know that it also applies to minority groups too. If you were to simply explain the glass ceiling to anyone, how would you do it?

Jenny Stanley:  It is an invisible cap that was created in reference to women initially. The metaphor of glass ceiling also represents the invisible barrier in the workplace based on be age, race, background to name a few.

Puja Pannum:  The glass ceiling…. You can see the other side of the ceiling but struggle to reach the other side through our own limitations, biases or stereotypes. Organizations that lack a clear career path often can be referred to having “a glass ceiling”, where individuals are boxed into certain roles and business units.

Sadia Akhter: A glass ceiling can be associated to anything from age, gender to nationality. If you’re working towards a specific role or pay grade that is being achieved by others around you and you are putting in the same effort yet you never seem to reach the coveted salary or role, then there is a glass ceiling above you.


How can someone notice or understand that the glass ceiling or subconscious bias is affecting them or their workplace?

Jenny Stanley: I’d say that if it was clear you are not being rewarded for similar results or efforts that others were commended for, then there is an issue. It is sometimes not always apparent, but often over time and through informal conversations, things won’t seem to not add up.

This was one of the things which encouraged me to start Femme Niche; a networking group for business women. Our events play host to interactive topics such as how to spot unfair treatment, especially within the tech industry and how to deal with it when you come across it. We hold several events a year, the last was in Madrid in January on “Don’t be afraid of disruption”. Our next event is actually here in Dubai on May 1st. [Femme Niche]

Puja Pannum:  Should individuals be excelling in their roles, making valuable contributions to their businesses, yet are not reaping the rewards of smart working…there is an obvious glass ceiling stalling career growth.

Sadia Akhter: If a person is working on building a career and striving to excel within their team yet do not see the recognition for their work, then there is a problem that needs to be addressed.


What can they personally do to fight it?

Jenny Stanley: Talk to HR or senior management, devise ways to act differently or present things differently. In some corporations there is simply nothing to do after these steps but to leave the organization, but it’s always worth standing up for everyone in the minority group as well as yourself in the first instance.

Sadia Akhter: Raise your concerns with your management, be clear and present facts. If your management is telling you that the bias is due to how well you fulfil your role and they feel it would be detrimental to the business to move you, present your case to prove why your growth will translate into the growth of the business.

The key thing for every person is that they need to learn is their own worth, what they are bringing to the table and they should be able to communicate that effectively. The more people stand up to this and fight for the belief they have in themselves, the more it empowers others to do the same until it becomes the norm.

Puja Pannum: By organizing a meeting with your direct manager with a clear agenda which outlines your KPIs, achieved objectives and successful projects undertaken; [it] will provide a base to start having an accountable discussion on the next steps in your role or career. Should this process not lead to a defined path to the next steps in your career, seek advice from a mentor in the business or the local HR team. We have to be responsible for our own careers and have the confidence to know where to go if you feel stalled.


We understand the glass ceiling as an external force affecting so many today, but what about the glass ceiling or obstacles we give ourselves as women or minorities? Could you tell us something that used to hold you back that you have let go/broken through?

Jenny Stanley: I really think women do get a hard deal, and in many ways, we created that for ourselves. Society wants us to behave at work like we have no children or childcare responsibilities, yet at home we are supposed to act like we don’t work.

We wanted almost everything and in doing so society didn’t level the playing field, just gave us more to deal with. Certainly, as a single mum I constantly doubted myself as not being a good enough mum and not acting as a child free employee. In the end, I had to accept that neither are possible and as all things, a healthy balance is really the only way forward.

Sadia Akhter: For me personally, and a lot of female peers I’m surrounded by, at times, [we] create our own hurdles. Women are always more cautious by nature and there have been occasions when I could have spoken up about something much sooner than I did and when I eventually did, there was always a solution that I wasted so much time getting to.

Women, in general, face pressures from all angles be it societal, traditional or personal but it’s up to us how we choose to overcome them. We all want to be the best at our jobs, at home, as partners and as mothers but we’re not taught what that best is. Best is entirely subjective and differs from person to person – just focus on doing the best you can.

Puja Pannum: This is my 20th year in the workforce, joining as a junior Exec in a global tech company in 1999. 20 years ago, there were so few women in the corporate world, let alone in a tech company.

Throughout these years, I have been privileged to see organizations set a diversity agenda and encourage women to join their organizations. In my early career, I would often be quite reluctant to voice my concerns, or have an opinion, in fear of being judged.

I overcame this by having some great female mentors in the business who encouraged sharing ideas, instrumenting changes and providing sound advice on career planning. These women, are still leading some of the largest global Tech firms and I am so grateful for their support in being there.


What would your advice be for others going through the same thing?

Jenny Stanley: Give yourself a break. Believe in yourself, drive to do your best and commend yourself in doing so, even if others don’t. And talk about it with others!

Don’t keep it bottled inside; we are all struggling with similar issues! The ethos behind Femme Niche is to empower each other and talk about our experiences so that ultimately, we can support each other and make change happen.

Sadia Akhter: Take each day as it comes, map out your long and short-term goals and do something every day that will take you towards your goals but also remember its ok to take a breather and some time out for yourself. And take stock of your achievements regularly, to remind yourself of how far you’ve come and to help you envision how much further you can go.

Puja Pannum:  Stop the imposter syndrome for a start. Recognize your achievements are because of you, not circumstances or luck.

Do your best, reach out to the best and build your tribe; your network. Find a mentor, a leader who you admire. These will be the people who will encourage your greatness, so YOU develop the confidence and belief to break that Glass ceiling.


Dubai Lynx opens its doors on Monday, you can still grab a ticket on their website.

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