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Can a sticky floor in business keep you from your career development?

Can a sticky floor in business keep you from your career development?

  • What are sticky floors in business?
  • How can you combat the sticky floor in business?
  • Key takeaways

There’s nothing worse than feeling stuck in your career. One reason you're not moving forward could be the sticky floor in business that impacts career development. We’ll help you unglue yourself from this trap and make positive steps upwards.

Nobody wants to get stuck in their career. When you think about the amount of time you spend at work, you want to enjoy, progress, and thrive in your career, rather than stand still. You’re probably aware of the well-known concept of the glass ceiling impacting career development, but you may not be so familiar with its distant relative: the sticky floor.   

According to Rebecca Shambaugh, an author and thought leader in the field of leadership development, it’s not about believing and aiming to hit the glass ceiling but dealing with the sticky floor that is holding you back. So, can a sticky floor in business be the real reason your career isn’t developing as you planned? 

In this article, we’ll explore:

  • What are sticky floors in business?

  • How can you combat the sticky floor?

Statistical Insight

According to research by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), on average “sticky floors” (related to social norms, gender stereotypes, and discrimination) account for a whopping 40% of the gender wage gap. 

What are sticky floors in business?

The sticky floor is a metaphor that highlights a discriminatory employment pattern that keeps workers (predominantly women) stuck in low-paying, low mobility positions, with invisible barriers to career advancement. The majority that experience the sticky floor in business are employed in clerical and administrative, care aide, service, and maintenance roles, but it can also impact other career types and levels. 

The concept was developed by Catherine Berheide, a professor of Sociology, following a statistical study of women and ethnic minorities in state and local government. Berheide found that most individuals in these employment fields were stuck in jobs with low pay and limited or no career advancement opportunities. In an interview with Laabs, she stated, “most women should be so lucky to have the glass ceiling as their problem. Many [women are] mired in the sticky floor.”

Expert Tip


Imposter syndrome and the sticky floor can go hand in hand, whatever your career level. Having the sense that you haven’t earned what you’ve achieved and are a fraud can get you stuck too. Avoid falling into the trap of self doubt by identifying what is holding you back and what triggers these feelings of self doubt.

How can you combat the sticky floor in business?

Have you been in the same role for some time? Feeling frustrated at work? Is your career not moving forward as planned? These are all indicators that you could be mired in a sticky floor situation. 

Here are some strategies to help you to remove the glue:

1. Build self-awareness

The best approach to dealing with the sticky floor in business is to build your self-awareness. Rebecca Shamburgh recommends “Ask yourself what you are doing or not doing that might be holding you back?” An honest assessment of your core values, strengths, and weaknesses, will boost your self-awareness and enable you to make better career choices.

2. Develop a career plan

Creating a career plan with realistic goals and SMART objectives will provide you with focus and accountability to move forward in your career. It’s also a good idea to gain a full understanding of the career pathways in your organization and be proactive in discussing your objectives at performance reviews. If you’re struggling to develop a career plan, hire a career coach who can provide an objective viewpoint and get you moving up that ladder.

Do
  • Explore training opportunities. Consider enrolling in workshops, courses, or training programs to enhance your skills.
Don't
  • Be afraid to consider a career change if you’ve exhausted options in your current role and want to move on.

3. Network and find a mentor

Building mutually beneficial relationships with other industry professionals in your target role can provide you with valuable insights and allow you to connect with a mentor. A great mentor can help you move upwards, especially if you can find someone who has been bold in their career and made good decisions. 

Explore community mentorship programs in your area and check out professional networks and organizations in your desired field on LinkedIn. Another option is to research online for organizations or nonprofits who support career development, such as Women in Work who provide women with access to training, mentorship, and jobs.   

4. Go for a promotion

When an opportunity for a promotion presents itself, we often think of all the negative reasons as to why we can’t do the job. Focus on being positive that you can do the job and have the courage to take action to get off your sticky floor. 

If you’re looking for experienced career coaches to guide you toward your career goals and success, check out Career.io’s Career Coach service to get started. 

Key takeaways

  1. The sticky floor in business is a discriminatory employment pattern that keeps workers (predominantly women) stuck in low-paying, low mobility positions.

  2. If you realize you're mired in a sticky floor, focus on building self-awareness, developing a career plan, training, finding a mentor, and being bold if any opportunities for career advancement arise.

  3. Career opportunities are important at whatever point you’re at in your career, so be aware of where you are in your career and where you want to be.

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