Saying sorry won’t help women break the glass ceiling

Women are typically under-represented in positions of power. This year women only make up five per cent of Fortune 500 CEOs and according to the Australian Workplace Gender Equality Agency, nearly three-quarters of organisations have a male-only management team. The number of women in senior roles is actually declining globally.

There is an unconscious bias towards women in leadership, which intimidates women and leaves them in an environment that doesn’t nurture their strengths and cuts them down. When a person feels intimidated, their brain’s threat response activates and consequently they are less likely to be able to express their true potential.

Society has specific expectations of female leaders. Men and women think differently, which means they also lead differently. Understanding how the brain works will strengthen and shape the leaders of the future. Embracing the differences between male and female leaders will positively impact organisations and the future landscape of business and leadership.

I’ve noticed a number of patterns in my two decades of working in the leadership training space. Women tend to apologise quite a lot, but it isn’t necessarily due to a lack of confidence. It’s because women are generally trying to harmonise the environment and that’s a biological thing women have in comparison to men. Women’s brains are wired so they prioritise emotions, empathy and nurturing.

Men, on the other hand, prioritise respect. Understanding these differences will create more diverse leadership. Women and men have something to contribute, and by breaking free of societal norms we can give everyone an equal say about the world around us.

My tips on how to break the glass ceiling and get what you want are as follows:

Stop saying sorry

In order to be an effective leader, women need to be confident and stop apologising. Women tend to use the words ‘I’m sorry’ far too often and usually when it isn’t required. In a male-dominated business landscape, females need to stand up, get noticed, push their way forward and not apologise for their right to speak or their right to an opinion.

Take care of yourself

In order to be the most effective and productive you, it is important to prioritise health and wellbeing. Do something for yourself, get a massage, play your favourite sport, spend time with family, whatever it is that you want to do, do it! This is essential to manage your level of energy and stress and find that sense of balance in your life.

Connect with others

Connecting with people at work and getting to know colleagues on your team can lead to increased office communication. Knowing colleagues’ values, and their likes and dislikes are extremely valuable. Knowing what they are motivated towards can also help with distribution of work and who will excel at certain tasks.

Develop a supportive network and sounding board

It is very important to have a supportive network. This includes a sounding board – people you can bounce ideas off and who will be honest and supportive with you. Friends, mentors or coaches are great to gain a different perspective on problems at work.


Being able to articulate thoughts with confidence, understand your intuitive insights and influence others while remaining calm are essential to success. In order to become a female leader in today’s society, it is vital that you harness your communication skills and learn how to effectively regulate your emotions and utilise them in a work setting.

Silvia Damiano, social scientist, leadership expert and filmmaker

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