I was sitting on a glass ceiling. The chairs and tables in the room were all lush and fashionable. The grandfather clock struck 3:30 as the meeting drolled on. At the head of the table, my boss was in a clean suit with a red tie reviewing the documents before him, while to my left the freshly hired Ms. Tilda—Tilly, as I call her, flicked her thumb and index finger nervously. The room was a work of art, to remind the people below that they had more to aspire to. In the room below, the scene is very different. Workers bustled about to and fro—some with papers, some with water jugs, some with carts of giant materials.
We were all at the water treatment facility in Arkansas. It’s an enormous, windowless building, with water tubes running throughout the building. Every room of the building, save the room I was in, had pipes throughout it, along the walls and the ceilings. Some rooms had so many pipes you couldn’t even see the ceiling above. The room below had almost none. There truth was that the two rooms were separated by a few feet—there were two “glass ceilings,” one for the room below, and one to make up the floor of the room I was in. The only way in or out of this room was by helicopter. There was a huge roof above us, with enough space for two choppers to land safely. In the room below, I could see my friend, Shirley, a brilliant woman on her way to the top, down below. She was ordering another worker to do something, and pointing at the door to the stairs. I was surprised that Tilly got the promotion over her—of course, deep down, I knew it was going to happen.
Shirley was an outspoken woman, and she was really forward. She and my boss clashed constantly. She was typically right, too, and while I argued to him that this was a good thing for developing our company to bring to meetings, he went in favor of the quiet Ms. Tilda. It probably helped that Tilda’s father and my boss were good friends. That, and the fact that she was gorgeous. She was five foot five inches, blond, and well toned. She had enough muscle to look fit, but not so much that it was intimidating. She had a soft face, she giggled at every joke, smiled constantly, and dressed well. Today, she was wearing a short, dark blue dress that was tight to her body. The dress itself stopped about 8 inches short of her knees—would you even call that a dress? I don’t know fashion very well. She constantly was pulling the bottom of the dress down to keep it from rolling too high, which I found quite comical. But, she certainly stood out, and I think our boss liked that. He, or the investors at the meetings, often shot her quick glances.
Of course, Tilly rarely spoke during meetings—not that she had been to that many. We had two meetings a week, and she had only been brought on a month ago. Normally there were an empty chair or two at meetings, but since Tilly had joined we have had to add a few chairs. She was the only woman in the room. Unfortunately, those days didn’t last. You see, there was an accident that day. At 3:35, the main pipeline backed up—we learned later that it was from a build up of plastic—and the pipes began to burst from the pressure. The building flooded. I remember it so clearly. Every room with a pipe must have flooded in minutes. The water pressure was so high, it forced the doors closed. The building was old, and our boss had neglected to put in the easy-open doors that Shirley had requested a year ago. I saw the water flood up below me through the glass ceiling. Shirley was down there, pulling frantically at the door. When she realized she couldn’t get it open, she started trying to plug the water flooding out of a pipe on the wall.
Eventually she had to start swimming, and we looked on in horror below as she, and other workers, were enveloped by water. I can still remember her hand banging on the glass, as the air bubbles popped from her mouth. The glass was industrial, made to withstand the harsh weather of the area. There was no way she would be able to break it—it was practically bulletproof. Eventually, the banging motions became slowed, until finally her arms drifted listlessly through the water, and the life drained from her eyes. Of course, we were all safe in our room. It was the only one separated from the main building. Tilly was crying. Our boss looked shocked. I wish I could say I felt the same, but as I looked at all the well-dressed men around me, I could only feel like this was their fault.
You see, that’s the problem with the glass ceiling. It lures people into the false sense that they can shatter it. But the reality is that they will just drown beneath it. They didn’t need a fancy ceiling, they needed a door. A real path out of that hell. But what kind of boss gives people a way out?