Earlier this month we saw the hundredth International Women's Day celebrated around the world, and I was reminded of when I established my own stress consultancy, over 20 years ago. That was a time when were no social networking groups, personal computers, mobile phones or email.
My vision was to offer a counselling service to bring a much needed support facility to employees experiencing stress, bereavement or trauma — all events which resulted in increased absenteeism, low morale and poor productivity.

‘Fast-forward' to 20 years later and I often wonder whether it's any easier in 2011 for today's working woman to succeed in setting up her own business or in climbing up the corporate ladder. The pressure of managing a work-life balance is a reality for most women in the workplace — whether she is a director or a secretary. Even with support, there is often a role conflict in being a working mother. And in today's high-tech, high pressure workplace, women have to find a way to assuage the inevitable feelings of guilt that sometimes rise to the surface.

Then there is the issue of the ‘glass ceiling' that is said to pose a challenge to the promotion of women. It refers to situations where a qualified, often executive, female within the hierarchy of an organisation, is obstructed from advancement because of some form of gender discrimination'.

In fact, in this month's Newsweek, Hillary Clinton discusses how she's shattering glass ceilings everywhere. Many executive female clients of mine have said that you have to be seen to be more or less androgynous in order to get to the top. There is no doubt that in America, women have been steadily breaking the barriers to advancement for over 100 years. Clinton didn't quite manage to break the "highest glass ceiling" to make her the first female president in America's history, but her 2008 campaign was the most overt bid so far to highlight her gender.

Gender challenges

Certainly there are women in our senior boardrooms who have climbed the corporate ladder but I am told by many female executives that in order to stay at the top, they feel they must never take their "eye off the ball" for a second and they have to learn to live with this constant pressure. On the other hand, I am also told that men in female-dominated professions, such as education or nursing, also face their own ‘glass ceiling', so that this can be a problem to both genders, in certain circumstances.

It is generally acknowledged, however, that women, in general, are often good communicators and this can be seen in the numbers who will spend time on business and social networks, making use of their time to market themselves and their interests. Of course, this is by no means a female dominated activity, but maybe they are more aware of the importance of links both within immediate circles and outside.

New contacts

Women's conferences addressing many issues of local, national and international concern, increasingly take place around the world and I am delighted to have been invited to deliver a keynote speech at the first Global Woman Summit in Washington, this October, being opened by First Ladies, America's Michelle Obama and Malaysia's Datin Paduka Seri Rosmah.

I am proud to be joining various high-profile, internationally acclaimed women from diverse professions such as politics, medicine, local government, commerce, industry and policing at this prestigious event enabling delegates to network and socialise in order to make valuable new contacts and to learn and develop new skills. But, back to today, and with three months of 2011 already gone, I wonder if you are on track in your business and your career path? Because, in this, there is no gender issue. It is a matter of commitment, dedication, motivation and inspiration and for that it is immaterial whether you are male or female.

Career drive: Sky is the limit

- Women in the workplace do face special challenges

- Although there are glass ceilings, they can be broken, everywhere

-  Commitment and dedication are not gender specific

- The author is a BBC guest-broadcaster and Motivational Speaker. She is CEO of an international stress management and employee wellbeing consultancy based in London. Contact them for proven stress strategies:  www.carolespiersgroup.co.uk