Seth Kahan
Author, consultant

Seth Kahan

Change expert and author who has advised executives in 50-plus organizations, including Shell, World Bank, Peace Corps and NASA. He can be reached at


Glass is made to break

Q: Natalie Randolph has just been hired as the varsity football coach at Coolidge High School in Washington, D.C., which makes her one of the few female head coaches in the country. What will be the obstacles to her success and how should she try to overcome them? Can you imagine a day when a woman would be chosen to coach an NFL team? Or are some glass ceilings unbreakable?

Any time a ceiling is broken, it causes heads to turn and many of them are hostile to a breaking with the old ways.

Where tradition ends and a new frontier begins there will always be a cluster of influencers. Some want tradition to remain, others are eager for new energy, new light, new ways. And still others are simply confused because a boundary has moved.

Hillary Clinton is not the first woman to run for president, but she is the first to demonstrate significant support and present a real threat to the opposition. Barack Obama, the first African Amercan to win the U.S. presidential election, still faces issues because of his race. Yet, this is not the focus of their attention -- it cannot be. They must keep their eye on results, achievement for those they continue to serve.

While conscious of the ground they are taking, the advances they are making possible, and the hope they are inspiring in the minds of children across the country, they must focus relentlessly on results because that is their ultimate trial. So it is with gender and racial boundaries, and any border that is meant to be broken by virtue of the illusory separation it causes.

Jackie Robinson was the first African American in the 20th century to play in the major leagues when he joined the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947. His position came at a time when racial segregation was prevalent in the U.S. In fact the Negro Major Leagues had begun in earnest in 1920 to provide African Americans with their own outlet as a response to the racial inequality that was the norm at the time.

Yet Robinson would prove himself first through his results and second through his character. He was challenged repeatedly. Regardless, he demonstrated indisputable talent.

His first year he took the league batting crown. He was elected to the All-Star games six years in a row from 1949 to 1954, and won the National League Most Valuable Player Award in 1949. He was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1962 and achieved many other distinguishing awards, often breaking racial barriers. His accomplishments are too numerous to mention and include many outside the sport.

Throughout all the criticisms and attacks he suffered during his career, Robinson displayed such marvelous character that today he is studied in classrooms for the contribution he made and the demonstration of character he exhibited.

Natalie Randolph does not have to measure up to Hillary, Barack, or Jackie, but she does have to keep her eye on the ball. Her success at the frontier of gender equality will be measured in touchdowns and the way she handles herself in the harsh light of public view.

I will be rooting for her. They don't call it an iron ceiling. Glass is made to break.

By Seth Kahan  |  March 18, 2010; 12:00 AM ET  | Category:  The glass ceiling Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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