How Digital Entrepreneurship is Helping Women Overcome the Glass Ceiling

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The glass ceiling.

You’ve probably heard this term before, denoting a metaphorical invisible barrier that prevents women from rising through the upper levels of business as easily as men. While it is not completely impossible for women to reach the upper echelons in a corporation, it is much more improbable, statistically speaking. The glass ceiling is a widely known fact that every woman in the business world is well aware of, and this inequality is a constant source of frustration for many.

As a woman in the business world, I first encountered the glass ceiling in 1992 when I joined Microsoft’s new office in China. I worked very hard and was eventually promoted to be the youngest department manager ever in Mainland China.

However, I also realized that my male colleagues received promotions much more quickly and easily than I did. I had to prove myself three or four times more than the men in the company and was passed over for a promotion many times during my first few years. It was very common for women to be treated this way at that time.

I do not regret those early days, however, for they taught me some very important life lessons. These formative years showed me what values I wanted to embrace when founding my own companies later on in my life — and also what I didn’t want my companies to be. More than anything, I learned that even though I may have had to struggle more than my male colleagues, complaining about it was a complete waste of energy and would only set me back farther from my goals.

Related: To Break up the Boys’ Club, Ladies, Why Not Start Your Own Venture Capital Firm?

Is it worth fighting the glass ceiling?

Over time, my concept of the glass ceiling has evolved, and I’ve found myself questioning why women should even bother trying to break a system that was made by men in the first place. Why are we fighting a war we didn’t start? If you fight in a system designed by others, you’re playing someone else’s game, and you stand little chance of winning. Think about that.

Instead of fighting against that system, it can be much more effective for us women to band together. We must rise above treating each other as rivals and realize that our advantage lies in our ability to connect with and mutually support each other.

One of the biggest problems facing women is that it’s not only the glass ceiling that limits us — our own self-limiting beliefs also plague us. Too many women struggle with feelings of limitation and a lack of self-confidence, hesitating to pursue goals they might otherwise be capable of achieving.

So, we must look within to find our inner strength, energy and power to grow into our ideal version of self. We can’t rely on anything outside of ourselves, and we shouldn’t focus on the inequalities of the system we live in. Our focus should be on inner growth and recognizing that minor setbacks are not insurmountable barriers at all.

Related: How to Own Your Place at the Table as a Minority Leader

How digital entrepreneurship can open doors for personal growth

The beautiful thing about modern technology is that it makes it easier than ever for women to completely bypass the glass ceiling by forging out on their own as entrepreneurs. Digital skills such as computer and internet savviness, use of AI applications, social commerce, etc., can open doors that enable women to start their own online businesses and become self-sufficient.

For example, I once met with Joanne, a customer of my B2B e-commerce company DHgate. Joanne was a university librarian who took time off from her job after the birth of her first child. Since she knew how to source baby products online through DHgate, she was able to open an online store as a part-time job to make extra money. She shared her parenting experiences and baby products she likes best on her blog, and gradually more and more mothers trusted her and shopped on her online store. In time, Joanne was able to quit her university job and change her career to become a full-time e-commerce entrepreneur.

As an entrepreneur myself, I see a great deal of value in taking concrete actions to solve problems. Talking about the glass ceiling is important, of course, but these words are wasted if we don’t take action by standing up for ourselves, speaking out and doing whatever we can to make a difference using the strength uncovered within ourselves. When it comes to issues like female empowerment, I feel more inclined to act first and talk later.

This proactive mindset is also important in entrepreneurship. Startup founders must constantly verify their ideas and prove them in the market in hopes of finding meaningful results. This never-ending market testing of new ideas is a primary force that drives much business innovation.

It may be uncommon for women to rise through the echelons of most major corporations to become CEOs, but it is becoming increasingly common to see women founders start their own companies and become extremely successful. This is a prime example of how this idea of women’s empowerment is being market-tested and providing meaningful results that can be used to back up further conversation on the issue, with the hope that the glass ceiling will disappear for future generations.

So, let’s all stop wasting our energy blaming the boys’ club and find more proactive solutions in our own ventures. Ignore the temptation to get drawn into fights we didn’t start. If we can draw our strength from within, stay focused on our goals and keep pushing forward, I am sure female entrepreneurs can find a great deal of success free from the limitations of a traditionally male-dominated society.

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