The Glass Ceiling

The keystone of persons with disabilities’ success is integration, and the key word is teamwork. However...
Francesco Levantini

We are all familiar with the diversity issue of the glass ceiling, a barrier for minorities, difficult to touch, and perhaps even impossible to rise beyond. In the years I spent in large multinational companies following studies in management and business, I discovered that there are in fact two crystal ceilings and reaching them allowed me, if not to break them, at least to choose, or to suggest to my disabled colleagues, the one which in some way makes it possible to reach higher. I don't think I am saying anything new to those who work for a large company that the keystone of success of a disabled person is their integration, and the key word to obtain it is teamwork. Working as a team means that winning is not an individual outcome but the result of the contribution from the whole group.


Be careful though because there are two ways to play: allow me a sports metaphor, one with a basketball team and the 4 x 400 metres relay. Winning a basketball game means passing the ball around from one teammate to the other based on a common and shared strategy. And winning a 4 x 400 metres relay means getting on the track with the right tool and giving one's best. In basketball the interaction happens during the game, while in the relay it is before and after. Now, for a disabled person, in one case or the other, it is not difficult to become part of the team. One can succeed with academic qualifications, with the support of trade associations and, most of all, with one's own relational skills. The trouble is that basketball is played by passing and receiving the ball and at critical moments the ball is passed to and received from people whose ability we can count to maintain expectations.


As the stakes are raised, the probability for a disabled person to receive the ball lowers. I am a blind person and that is why I have not chosen basketball as my career. I did all I could to aim towards education. Similar to relay, it allows me to prepare my performance with my own instruments and, in the classroom, I am the only one running my lap on the track.


Illustration of a glass ceilingNo one has to pass me the ball and, if I do my job right, I contribute to my team with which I interact only when the results are in, when we encourage or console each other. So, I chose the glass ceiling that allowed me to reach higher. If I had been deaf, I would probably have chosen research or marketing roles where the individual creativity pays off. For a mobility impaired person, research or office work may be interesting because it is where relationships are certainly important but the race is concentrated above all on one's own individual ability.


Often, an inclusive company tends to surround the disabled person so as not to leave them alone.


The literature mentions the case of an accountant’s office working in Neapolitan and, wanting to integrate a very good economist who graduated in China, they tried to teach him Neapolitan to make him play with his colleagues.


It could not work. The crystal ceiling will immediately appear, our oriental friend will never completely change his nature and so his colleagues will hardly pass the ball to him in those crucial moments. Instead, what is important is to use the wealth of diversity.


Change the game and run a relay: to get together the Neapolitan and Chinese economists and lead them towards Neapolitan customers who have relations with China. The two "athletes" will run their lap on the track independently and will provide the team with the results which would otherwise be unattainable.


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